By Dalton Ray–
Bobby Petrino’s second tenure is in full swing as he enters his third year. During his first two years the team has a record of 17-9 with two bowl appearances and one bowl win.
On face value, winning 17 out of 26 games over two years along with consecutive bowl appearances seems impressive. When you break down the overall wins over the past two years it paints a different picture. Here’s a list of wins by year.
2014: Miami, Murray State, FIU, Wake Forest, Syracuse, North Carolina State, Boston College, Notre Dame and Kentucky.
2015: Samford, NC State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Virginia, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
There isn’t exactly a signature victory in that bunch. There are two or three “standout” wins in Petrino’s first 17, the remaining games all blend together. Here is TLC Sports ranking of Louisville’s football wins over the past two years, from worst to best.
17. 10/30/15, Wake Forest (Away) 20-19
To kick off the list we’ll start with this past year’s victory over the Demon Deacons. For starters, every win is a good win. But there are games that shouldn’t be close, and this is one. The one-point road win was one of the low points of last year and one of the hardest games to watch. Louisville had to score 17 points in the second quarter to avoid an upset. U of L’s defense was able to step up and hold off WF’s final game winning drive.
16. 10/24/15, Boston College (Home) 17-14
The second hardest game to watch of the 2015 season was against the Eagles at home. On this rainy Saturday, U of L punted nine times, fumbled twice, threw an interception and didn’t score in the second half. This game simply just kind of ended in the most anticlimactic fashion. The best highlight coming from this game Sheldon Rankins’ 46-yard scoop and score that involved him hurdling a defender. On the defensive side of the ball for Louisville allowed -14 rushing yards and 93 passing yards.
15. 9/26/15, Samford (Home) 45-3
The third “worse” win on this list once again comes from 2015. An FCS game only matters when the FBS team losses, otherwise it’s a glorified spring game. This game in particular was more interesting because of Samford’s head coach coming back to Kentucky, who was a former coach at Murray State. Lamar Jackson showed out against an FCS team, no surprise. This game was simply an average warm up game every power five school has.
14. 9/27/14, Wake Forest (Away) 20-10
This was U of L’s first game against WF since the 2006 Orange Bowl, but eight years make a huge difference. Once again Louisville found itself battling with a team that doesn’t come close to them in talent level. Believe it or not, Louisville was trailing in this game heading into the fourth. WF had a whopping total of -22 rushing yards and 122 passing yards. Louisville needed a 13-point fourth quarter to take this game at home. One of the worst games to watch in Petrino’s eras.
13. 9/6/14, Murray State (Home) 66-21
Once again we run into another FCS team. The second game into Petrino Era Part Two was nothing but nostalgia for Cardinal fans. The Cards had 600 yards off offense, nine touchdowns and the offense was simply just clicking. Almost like they were playing a FCS team, oh wait.
12. 9/20/14, Florida International University (Away) 34-3
Thankfully for the university and its fans, the days of having FIU in the deep part of the schedule are over. The Golden Panthers had their one shining moment against U of L with TY Hilton tearing up the turf in 2011. For the next three years the Cards used them as a punching bag. Fresh off a 72-0 beating in 2013, Petrino beat them by 31 the next year. Will Gardner threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns as the Cardinals scored 21 points in the second quarter.
11. 11/7/15, Syracuse (Home) 41-17
At this point inthe 2015 season, the Cardinals were finally hitting their stride during the year, offensively. After two of the most boring games a fan could watch, they were finally rewarded by a offensive showing against a FBS team. After one quarter the Orange were actually leading 10-7. Getting things started was the 39-yard Trumaine Washington pick-six, then Kyle Bolin found Cole Hikutini for two touchdowns. Bolin ended the game with 362 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinals beat up on the injury riddled Syracuse team.
10. 10/3/14, Syracuse (Away) 28-6
The Orange makes their second debut on the list and cracks our top ten. The 2014 ranks higher than 2015 for a few reasons. First off, the 2014 Syracuse team was simply better and had more talent. Two, it was a road victory and winning in the Carrier Dome isn’t the easiest. Three, 2015’s team had so many injuries they didn’t have a chance. Brandon Radcliff carried the Cardinals in the game and had 110 yards with two touchdowns. Like most of the previous seven wins, Louisville’s defense held the Orange to under 60 yards rushing. A 22-point victory on the road when you don’t allow the home to score a touchdown isn’t a bad outing.
9. 11/14/15, Virginia (Home) 38-31
The lone reason Virginia ranks higher than Syracuse for one simple reason: they’re more talented. Mike London was able to pull in high level recruiting talent but couldn’t get them to produce. From 2011-2014 The Cavaliers hauled in 14 four-star recruits and two five-stars. The 2015 win gave Louisville it’s longest winning streak of the year at four. Tied at halftime, the Cards were able to get a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter after a 96-yard scoring drive. A vintage Radcliff lead U of L to the win with 146 yards and two touchdowns as Bolin was spotty because of offensive line play. The win gave the Cards momentum and put Louisville at 6-4 after starting 0-3.
8. 10/11/14, North Carolina State (Home) 30-18
The October win against the Wolfpack was wedged in-between a pair of tough losses for U of L in Clemson and Florida State. Stats wise, the game was close. The major difference came once again in the running game. Michael Dyer rushed for over 180 yards and a touchdown as NC State had their two running backs rush for 88 yards. This was the win that finally made Louisville fans feel like they were apart of the ACC. The 2013 home opener against Miami felt like the match from the 2006 season. The next two conference wins were over bottom feeders Wake Forest and Syracuse. This was the win that made Cardinal fans say, “We’re here now.” This mid-season game against a long-time ACC member made the past five years in the Big East and AAC totally worth it.
7. 11/28/15, Kentucky (Away) 38-24
The 2015 win over UK in Lexington would rank higher if the Wildcats didn’t start the year 5-1 then drop the next five games before the rivalry, for the second straight year. It was late November and you could just tell Big Blue Nation was ready to go cheer on John Calipari and Skal Labissiere down the road. The fan base simply wasn’t there once Louisville came within a touchdown. The game was classic Mark Stoops fashion, jumping out early and fading away late. After getting up 21-0 in the first quarter and going into halftime with a 24-7, all was good in BBN. Up big on the Cards, you had Matt Jones leading the C-A-T-S chant from the press box while high-fiving KSR members. Then lightning struck twice as a true freshman quarterback from Florida stepped in for U of L. Jackson would crush all hope for UK fans getting enjoyment from sports outside of Rupp. UK wouldn’t score in the second half as Drew Barker completed two passes and Louisville scored 31 unanswered points.
6. 11/8/14, Boston College (Away) 38-19
The win over Boston College in 2014 is one of the best victories in Petrino’s second tenure, and no that isn’t a typo. Despite being picked last in the ACC in the preseason, this Eagles team was very good. They lost to Clemson by four, number-one Florida State on the road by three and lost their bowl game in overtime by one to Penn State. BC’s defense was one of the best in the nation, including the nation’s second-ranked rush defense, and for Louisville to put up 38 points on the road is impressive. Going into the fourth quarter U of L led 24-19 and used touchdown runs from Radcliff and Reggie Bonnafon, 36-yards, to finish off the game. Louisville finished with 166 rushing yards.
5. 10/3/15, North Carolina State (Away) 20-13
This win was extremely important because the Cardinals were on the verge of going 1-4 on the year if they lost. The victory was the first over an FBS team after losing close games to Auburn, Clemson and Houston. Jackson performed in the air the way you’d expect a true freshman on his first road game. In his second start Jackson went 10-for-27 passing and 103 yards with a touchdown but added 147 yards and a touchdown on the ground. After scoring 14-points in the first quarter Louisville banked on their defense to finish off the game for them. The win put the Cards at 2-3 and avoided one of the worst starts since the Steve Kragthrope era, a time that Louisville fans don’t speak of.
4. 11/29/14, Kentucky (Home) 44-40
You know your team doesn’t have a many impressive wins when UK makes your top five. You know who puts beating Kentucky in one of their best wins? Western Kentucky. Anyways, let’s get to Petrino’s first game against UK back at U of L. Kentucky started the game up 13-0 but Bonnafon was replaced by Kyle Bolin after he suffered a leg injury. After the first quarter fans were all saying one thing, “Throw the ball to DeVante Parker.” On Bolin’s second attempt he threw the ball up to Parker for a 45-yard touchdown. After this, the game became a back-and-forth shootout and one of the more entertaining rivalry games in the past ten years. Bolin ended with 381 yards and three touchdown passes and Parker ended with six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Petrino couldn’t drop this home game, his first game back in the Governor’s Cup series.
3. 12/30/15, Texas A&M (Neutral) 27-21
The most recent win for U of L is one of the best wins over the past two years. On top of the Aggies being an SEC team, this bowl win was against a team with a winning record. In 2015, Louisville only had two wins against FBS teams with a winning record. U of L was on the big stage facing off against a team from arguably the nation’s best conference. Louisville jumped up on A&M in the first quarter after lead 20-7. The remainder of the game slowly went by as the second half only saw 14-points scored. Jackson dazzled during the game totaling for over 450 yards and four touchdowns. This game catapulted U of L into preseason top 25 rankings and into dark horse Playoff conversations. This game would mean more if A&M didn’t lose two quarterbacks just before the bowl game and if their defense wasn’t depleted by injuries.
2. 9/1/14, Miami (Home) 31-13
The first game in Bobby Ball Part Two was home black-out home game against the Hurricanes. The atmosphere was one of the best in Papa John’s Stadium history and one of the highest attended games. After Miami took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, Corvin Lamb returned a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and U of L didn’t look back. The Cardinals outscored Miami 17-3 in the second half and Petrino kicked off his second time around just right. Dominique Brown rushed for 151 yards on 33 carries with a touchdown. Will Gardner went 20-for-28 and 206 yards with two touchdowns. Defensively, the Cardinals forced two interceptions. This Miami team wasn’t like old or mid-2000’s even. Led by a freshman quarterback, Hurricanes had four NFL draft picks on the roster but finished the year with a 6-7 record.
1. 11/22/14, Notre Dame (Away) 31-28
The best win under Bobby 2.0 is hands down on the road against the Fighting Irish. Louisville went into Notre Dame Stadium with a true freshman quarterback and came out with a close victory in front of 80,000 people. Despite being outscored in the second half 22-14, Louisville created enough space in the first half with a 17-6 halftime lead. Even though Bonnafon had a poor game through the air, his gritty performance willed U of L to a victory. The Cardinals were lead once again by Radcliff’s 137 yards and one touchdown. ND missed a 32-yard field goal that could of potentially put the game into overtime. Going into Notre Dame Stadium as the underdog with a true freshman quarterback and coming out victorious isn’t something a lot of teams can claim. This late November win is one of the best coach performances Cardinal fans have seen from Petrino.
The combined record of the these 17 teams is an unimpressive 87-122, that’s a 42-percent winning percentage. Only five wins have been against teams with winning records. One positive takeaway from this is Petrino has been able to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. The negative is they’ve beat up on the bottom feeders.
Despite being a power five conference, Louisville has yet to take advantage. Petrino wasn’t handed a team full of scrapes like he left for Steve Kragthrope when he bailed for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Former coach Charlie Strong left more than enough talent. Of the 33 Cardinals currently in the NFL, 28 played under Strong and 20 were recruited by him.
The third year is a big year for Petrino and the Cards because they can make the step in the ACC or stay second tier. There are a lot of high hopes surrounding the program this year.
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal