We’re back with an opposing blogger interview! Thanks to the ACC/Big Ten challenge the past two seasons Purdue has had a nice little surprise home and home series with the Cardinals in the most favored sport for each school, but Saturday night Purdue and Louisville will meet for just the second time in football. The first was 30 years ago in my first ever game at Ross-Ade Stadium and it settled nothing. The Boilermakers and Cardinals had a 22-22 tie that day.
Now it is time to finally decide that game, and we went to a Louisville blogger to learn more. This week we have John Powell of Card Chronicle to talk about the Cards. I answered their questions two weeks ago as part of their countdown to kickoff, but here is what John had to say about Saturday.
T-Mill: Lamar Jackson is obviously an incredible talent, but I know the offensive line is a bit of a concern. What is the situation there and has there been improvement after they struggled to finish last year?
John: Concern is probably a good word today, but back in late November fans were losing their damn minds. The offensive line has been a point of contention with the fan base nearly every season since Petrino returned and something had to be done. Coack Klenakis was the O-line Coach for the last three years and while it’s unfair to pin the blame squarely on him the line just didn’t seem to improve as the season progressed, and if anything, they got worse. To avoid the “fans always complain” narrative, a good point of reference for outsiders would be the fact that Louisville finished 126th (out of 128 D-I schools) in sacks allowed, two years straight. Petrino knew something had to be done and brought in Coach Mike Summers to work with the O-line, a coach who was with Petrino during his first stint at Louisville and subsequently followed him to the Falcons, and then to Arkansas. In addition to the new Coach the Cards have a lot of young talent they are bringing in to help some of the more experienced holdovers. In the depth chart released on Monday it appears Louisville will have a (very large) true freshman in 6-7, 340lb Mekhi Becton playing right tackle, and a redshirt freshman in Robbie Bell starting at Center. Those two will help returning starters Lukayus McNeil, Geron Christian, and Kenny Thomas, all three entering their Junior season. There will still be struggles, but the Summers addition and another year of experience for the left side of the line certainly has fans breathing a little easier heading into this season. I think even the most optimistic fan realizes that without a strong line and support from the running game Louisville’s goals of a conference championship and playoff berth are simply unattainable.
T-Mill: With Jackson rushing more than many running backs who will be in the backfield with them and how will they help out?
John: If you believe Jackson and Petrino, the plan would be for him to run far less this season than he did last. The “not so secret” secret behind Jackson’s rushing totals last year was that a lot of the yardage came off broken plays or him running for his life behind a struggling line. Louisville will absolutely continue to run a version of the inverted veer or read option play with Lamar, but with his growth at reading progressions downfield and hopefully better O-line play, I would not expect his video game-like scrambles to come quite as often. They hope that approach will also help minimize some of his turnovers as he had difficulty with fumbles last season, including a late fumble against Kentucky to set up a game winning field goal (Not quite on the same level as the Orton fumble, but painful none the less). In terms of help in the backfield, Louisville lost Sophomore Dae Williams to an ACL injury in the Spring and saw Jeremy Smith get dinged up as well, both fighting to replace departed Senior Brandon Radcliff. The result of those injuries was that “Mr. Do it all” Reggie Bonnafon, who has previously played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver for the Cards, was shifted back to running back to help fill the void. Over the course of the spring and then through the Summer Reggie seemed to solidify his role and was actually named the starter heading into Week 1. He’s a versatile “athlete” who can certainly make plays in open space but has not yet proven he can be an every down type of back, Week 1 should be interesting to watch at this position. In addition to Reggie the Cards will likely look to fellow Seniors Jeremy Smith (returning from injury) as the bruiser back and Malik Williams to help him carry the load.
T-Mill: Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is a former Louisville QB and has worked extensively with Bobby Petrino in the past. Does this give him a slight edge for his first game as Purdue coach?
John: My gut tells me yes. Obviously the offense has been updated and modified over the years but Brohm having the motivation of not only playing QB at Louisville but also coaching in the Petrino system certainly has to benefit Purdue in comparison to a coach coming into the week blind. In addition, Brian Brohm also played under Petrino and Coach Holt and Coach Levine have some history with the University as well. The problem of course is that even if Purdue has the playbook in front of them, Louisville has Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, and a ton of other athletes. Lamar’s speed and elusiveness is simply impossible to replicate, and Louisville fans on many occasions last year saw a defense come in and defend plays almost perfectly, only to watch Lamar make a couple cuts and break off a 20 yard scamper. I’m firmly in the minority of the fanbase but I actually think Purdue will keep the game close for awhile until the Cards athleticism simply begins to take over in the second half. I doubt Brohm will be “surprised” by anything Petrino throws at him, which could make things interesting…for awhile.
T-Mill: How is it these two programs have only played once, a 22-22 tie, 30 years ago?
John: I have no clue. Proximity alone figures the two would have battled it out at least a handful of times over the years but it just never happened. Not to point the finger, but speaking with knowledge of the last 20 or so seasons I know Louisville would have played Purdue in a heartbeat if the opportunity were presented. Tom Jurich, the Louisville AD, made it abundantly clear when he was hired back in 1997 that he would play anyone, anywhere, trying desperately to revive a bad football program that was coming off a Ron Cooper coaching failure. Some of you may recall that Louisville was a The Boilers love to get some “MAC-tion” in the non-conference schedule almost every year, and until recently the home-home rivalry with Notre Dame limited the options for Purdue to just a couple other non-conference games. I heard there were rumors of a Louisville-Purdue matchup a few years back, but the Boilers went with the Cincinnati series instead. The good news is that Jurich and the new Purdue AD, Bobinski, seem to be on the same page that the matchup should occur on a more frequent basis. Louisville recently announced a series with IU in 2024 and 2025 and already plays Notre Dame on occasion due to the ACC contract. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Cards and Boilers get a series setup in the next 10 years or so. I’m sure there are some 3rd graders in West Lafayette right now who will really enjoy their trip to play against Louisville in 2029.
T-Mill: With the game being at Lucas Oil Stadium do you expect it to be a pro-Louisivlle crowd or more of a 50/50 split?
John: I’m actually really interested to see how this plays out. The one positive thing to take away for Boiler fans is that no matter how it splits, 95% of the people in that stadium will be cheering for Purdue the rest of the season. Louisville still loves the Brohm family, and really wants him to succeed up there. As far as Saturday, Louisville fans have no issue traveling to Indianapolis and have shown as much the last 5 or 6 years packing Lucas Oil for NCAA tournament games. If the game were last year, I would have pegged a 70-30 UofL crowd, BUT Purdue has some new life with Brohm and I think fans are excited to see a new brand of football, even if they don’t expect to win. If it does turn out to be a 50-50 crowd I wouldn’t be stunned, but I actually think 60-40 UofL is more realistic. Louisville has legitimate championship aspirations and the fan base is ready to watch their Heisman winner put on a show each week. In doing the Countdown to Kickoff over at Card Chronicle this year I’ve gotten the feeling the excitement is on another level from seasons past. Fans legitimately believe they are a playoff caliber team.
T-Mill: Louisville should win handily, but what scenario would it take for Purdue to keep it close into the second half?
John: There are a handful of things that are certainly plausible which would keep the game close late. First, as referenced above, poor O-line play could have Lamar running for his life, and in a flashback to the Houston Game or the bowl game against LSU the offense could struggle as a result. The counterpoint of course is, does Purdue have the talent up front to create that pressure? The second issue could be Louisville’s thin defensive line. They have some talent in the front 7 but depth is a major concern as Louisville recently dismissed a player (Chris Williams) who was likely a starter up front, and some of the underclassmen lack experience. If Purdue throws 4 or 5 running backs at the Cards, as many expect them to, the fresh legs could be a problem, and create some scoring opportunities for Purdue as the game wears on. Third, as with any game, would be injuries. Louisville is much more than just Lamar Jackson, but having him get hurt drastically changes the prospected outcome for this game and their entire season. Speaking of injuries, in my opinion, if Blough isn’t at 100% the probability of Purdue springing the upset takes a big hit, even if one of the items above happens. I think he has the talent under Brohm to do big things and not having him at full strength will hurt. I’m looking forward to an exciting game where we should see points put up on the board from both teams. I know you didn’t formally ask but I’ll throw my prediction at you anyway because I’m such a nice guy. I’ll take the Cards….49-20.