With apologies to the one-year stint with Western Kentucky in 2013, Monday night marked the return of Bobby Petrino to big-time college football.
Now in the first year of his second stint as the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals, the former Arkansas head coach pounded the Miami Hurricanes 31-13.
It was about what you'd expect from a Petrino-coached team.
The Cardinals established the running game, got efficient play in the passing game and leaned on the Hurricanes late to pull away in the second half of what was not only Petrino's first game back, but the first game for Louisville as a member of the ACC.
How did his encore grade out?
It wasn't the kind of performance that Petrino's teams are accustomed to, with the quarterback slinging the ball all over the field and the scoreboard lighting up with crooked numbers.
It was efficient. It was smart. It was effective.
Quarterback Will Gardner completed 20 of 28 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, which is certainly good enough. However, two fumbles—including one in the red zone—helped keep the game unnecessarily close early.
“Other than the turnovers, I mean a couple fumbles. Other than that I am but there is always room to improve and get better and just come out next week, work hard and get ready for the next event,” Gardner said.
While ball security was an issue, Petrino suggested some of Garnder's issues can be fixed with pass protection.
"A lot of the hits were caused of making the wrong call, we didn’t block the right guy," Petrino told reporters. "He still has to get the ball against his body. You talk about poise and competitive spirit, the way he came out and played after those mistakes, I’m very proud of him."
On the ground, the Cardinals were fine.
Without an injured Michael Dyer, Dominique Brown took over against a Miami defense that has some run-stuffers in the front seven, including Denzel Perryman. Brown had 33 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown in the win, and he took a ton of pressure off Gardner.
“It’s a great feeling," Brown said following the game. "You know when you’ve got the offensive line behind you—especially with the head coach calling the plays to me, just telling me to stay out there and 'we’re gonna keep feeding you'—it's a great feeling.”
The protection issues and Gardner's ball security are concerning and what prevented this grade from being an "A."
I'll be honest, I was shocked at Louisville's defense against Miami on Monday night.
After four years of confusion, ineptitude and inconsistency in Athens, Petrino paid Todd Grantham $1 million per year to coordinate the Cardinals defense. It looked comfortable, properly taught and fundamentally sound against the 'Canes.
Grantham's defense forced three turnovers, held Miami to 1-of-13 on third-down conversions and forced running back Duke Johnson to cut behind the line of scrimmage early and often, limiting his effectiveness.
This put too much pressure on true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.
"I think we did a good job of being gap-sound and our guys using their hands to get off blocks," Petrino said. "I like the way our linebackers played coming downhill and our secondary was involved in being where they needed to be."
Was that hefty contract to Grantham worth it?
So far, so good.
Special Teams: A
The Cardinals were good in essentially every aspect of special teams.
Corvin Lamb had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, showing off blazing speed and quickly shifting momentum back to the home team after Miami had taken a 10-7 lead. Lamb showed off tremendous speed and elusiveness on the return, which makes him a dangerous weapon for the Cards moving forward.
"He’s a guy whose speed shows up every day in practice," Petrino said. "I think we’ve just got to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved in our offense as well as special teams."
John Wallace hit all four of his extra points and his only field-goal attempt (28 yards), while Ryan Johnson averaged 44 yards per punt.
Can't get much better than that from a special teams perspective.
There are some issues to work out, particularly with Gardner's ball security and the protection up front. But make no mistake, Louisville made a statement on Monday night that it is a contender in the ACC Atlantic.
Is it better than Florida State or Clemson?
That remains to be seen, but each of those two front-runners showed its fair share of weaknesses as well—plus Louisville gets the 'Noles at home on a Thursday night on Oct. 30.
The Cardinals are in the discussion, and that's about as good as it could possibly get after Week 1.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93 XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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