October 31, 2015

Similarities between Bridgewater and Jackson

Using a favorite phrase from Rick Pitino, “We live in a microwave society.”

This time, the phrase doesn’t just relate to the men’s basketball team.

21 games into his second head coaching stint at Louisville, Bobby Petrino isn’t exactly where “we” might have predicted.

“We”…the microwave society.

The offensive line has been atrocious and the high octane offense that a Petrino-coached team is so accustomed to has been absent.

Yes, Petrino took over a program that had two consecutive double-digit win seasons and two bowl victories over Florida and Miami.

But, he also walked into a program that had lost one of the best quarterbacks in school history and a plethora of defensive talent.

On top of this, only two offensive linemen, Skylar Lacy and T.C. Klusman remain from the final two recruiting classes from former head coach Charlie Strong.

By no means was the cupboard bear for Petrino when he took over in 2014, but he didn’t have the two necessary assets that he could build an offensive foundation with.

Petrino was missing an offensive line and a quarterback.

Will Gardner was made the heir apparent for Bridgewater in the spring of 2014, but that notion lasted about as long as his health could hold up.

While a senior laden offensive line in 2014 showed glimpses of ability and consistency, the entire offensive line had to be remade for the 2015 season.

Instead of rotating in experienced linemen who had developed in the program over the past few years, Petrino and staff were forced to find any and all able bodies to fill the front five.

So, through eight games this year, Louisville has featured 10 different offensive lineman, and even resorted to starting two true-freshmen, a rarity for Division-I football.

Behind the ever shuffling carousel of linemen is a freshman quarterback with six career starts under his belt.

Lamar Jackson isn’t Teddy Bridgewater, and he won’t ever be.  But, he can be a quarterback that can continue to learn the position while using his talent and athleticism to lead an inconsistent offense.

For the sake of comparison, through their first eight collegiate games, Jackson and Bridgewater both commanded their team to 4-4 records.

In six starts and eight games, Jackson has completed 106 of 183 passes for 1342 yards and eight touchdowns.  His completion percentage is 58 percent while throwing seven interceptions.

In five starts and eight games, Bridgewater completed 95 of 150 passes for 1029 yards and seven touchdowns.  His completion percentage was 63 percent while he threw six interceptions.

So, the numbers aren’t too far off eight games into their careers.

And don’t forget Jackson’s ability to make plays with his feet, he has rushed for 484 yards and six touchdowns.

Bridgewater finished off the final five games of his freshman year completing 66 percent of his passes, averaging 220 passing yards per game and throwing seven touchdowns to six interceptions.

Can Jackson put up similar numbers in the final portion of his freshman campaign?

Some of it might depend on the play of his inexperienced and frequently tinkered offensive line.

Not to harp on Bridgewater too much, but as a freshman, he played behind three freshman offensive linemen; John Miller, Jamon Brown and Jake Smith.  Both Miller and Brown were true-freshmen.

Similarities? Yes.

Jackson the second coming of Bridgewater? No.

But, Jackson will develop and carve out his own path, and so to, will the offensive line, eventually.

The issues won’t be solved over night or even after a few weeks of practice.

For the Petrino to build the team “we” pictured, he needs time to build and develop the two core components of his potentially potent offense.

The remaining slate of games against Syracuse, Virginia, Pitt and Kentucky aren’t daunting enough to pack up the season, but the two home contests and two road trips provide a challenge for a team that isn’t quite there yet.

“We” are waiting to see the scoreboard light up and the Cardinal offense to have some form of consistency, but that likely won’t be coming this year because Petrino can’t cook up the program’s next great quarterback overnight or stir together a dominant offensive line over two weeks of fall camp.

With an offense filled with freshmen and newcomers, expectations were unrealistic to think Petrino could pick up where he left off in 2006, but these final four games will be a great test to see how much longer it might take.


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