Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino talks UVA game
COACH PETRINO: “Obviously, we feel like we didn’t play the way we need to. There’s no question about that. Offensively, we have to really get all 11 guys doing their job on every play. Watched the video, you make a mistake here, one guy here. (Redshirt sophomore) Puma (Pass) had some tough luck early with some dropped passes. But, sometimes dropped passes have to be on time, in the right area. That hurt us a lot early in the game. (Redshirt freshman quarterback) Malik’s (Cunningham) done a nice job. He’s come in and given us energy, given us a lot of fire. I did like the way we ran the ball in the second half. That’s happened the last two games where we’ve been able to really run the football well, handing it to a running back, and that’s something that we really wanted to work on in our last two games. I liked the way (redshirt sophomore running back) Dae Williams ran the ball. He ran with power, he pressed the holes, made the cutbacks, got the ball in the end zone, and did a nice job there.
Defensively, I was happy with some of our young guys getting a lot of reps and a lot of production. (Freshman linebacker) Robert Hicks played well and fast for us. (Freshman defensive end) Jarrett Jackson made some huge plays for us, particularly that sack at the end of the game. Even (freshman linebacker) Yasir was in on that, did a good job, his job was to spy the quarterback and then add on, and he showed us his speed and quickness on that, so, that worked out really well. (Redshirt sophomore defensive end) Tabarius Peterson had another good game, which was really good to see. And then, (sophomore safety) TreSean Smith had a really good game for us, came and made some great tackles, made a huge pass break-up that helped us win the game. So, it’s good to see him getting healthier and faster and playing more reps.
Again, I thought our special teams had a positive influence on the game. (Redshirt sophomore kick returner) Rodjay’s return and the way (redshirt junior punter) Mason’s kicking the ball—(redshirt junior wide receiver) DeVante Peete really stood out, giving us energy and leadership on special teams and on offense. He’s kind of back to where he was a couple of years ago when he was voted special teams captain with the leadership he’s providing out there, and that helps us a lot. And then, (sophomore linebacker) Quen Head did a nice job on special teams, so that’s another new guy that showed a lot of speed—had a nice tackle inside the 15-yard line, really did a good job. He was in three out of the four special teams and executed and did really well for us.
We’ve got to play better football. That’s the bottom line is we’ve got to play better football. We’ve got to take it from the practice field on to the game field with the right timing and the right precision in the passing game and put it all together—put it all together with the protection and the quarterback’s vision and timing and the receivers catching the ball and running after the catch. Three early games in my career, I don’t know if we’ve had less explosive plays ever. Particularly, with the receivers and the passing game, I expected to have more big plays than we’re getting right now, and that’s something that has to change. I would throw that post route to (senior wide receiver) Jaylen Smith any day of the week. He ran a great route, the ball was right there, he makes that catch 99 out of 100 times, and I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. He’ll come back and he’ll have some games this year where he’s the reason we win the game, just like he did a year ago. He’s really getting back to where he needs to be, but he can make that catch. He knows he can make it, and obviously, he just has to be able to keep his confidence.”
What’s the status of [redshirt senior] London [Iakopo]?
“Oh yeah, London. I should’ve talked about him first. London is doing good. I went over the hospital yesterday after the TV show to see him. They were bringing him down for a MRI. He came walking into my office a little bit on yesterday afternoon—was in good spirits, feeling good. We talked for a while and he feels like he’ll be back and going at some point. I’m not sure when that will be, but obviously, he was in really good spirits. Sometimes, they do that for precautionary reasons, and obviously, it’s always hard on everybody. Both sides of the field, no one ever wants to see that happen, so we’re just grateful, and I know a lot of our players were saying prayers for him. But, we’re good that he’s healthy and good to go.”
Bobby, you made it a point preseason to say that you thought your offense would be better this year.
“I remember saying that…ACC Media Days. I said, ‘I expected them to be better.’ I expect a lot of things. And I get some and some I don’t get. (Do you think you overestimated?) “No, you have to have high expectations. You have to have high expectations. I’m looking at what we’ve got coming back and I feel good about what’s going on, but right now, we’re not obviously getting that done. So, we’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching. We’ve got to do a better job of playing. And, we’ve got to make sure we all stay together, which I’m happy about. I’m happy about the way the locker room was at halftime and the way guys stepped up, and the energy and leadership that we took the field with in the second half was something that allowed us to come back and win the game. But obviously, we’re not playing the way we should.”
The quarterback competition, is it an open competition or do you expect Malik will be the starter?
“Malik will start the game. He’s had 12 possessions that he started and scored eight times in those 12 possessions. He gives us energy. He gets the guys around him to play hard. I had Puma up in my office yesterday. I felt bad for him. Obviously, it’s not what I expected. It’s not what he expected. It’s hard on him, but he’ll come back. He’ll regroup. But like I told him, I’ve to got to do what’s best for the team. Right now, that’s what I feel’s best.”
That conversation with Puma, did it go well?
“It went good. Obviously, it’s hard. It’s not at all what he expected and how he expected things to go. I thought he played well against Alabama, but we just haven’t been driving the ball and getting the ball in the end zone. But, it’s hard on him. It’s hard on me. It’s not what we wanted. Like I told him, I’m still a big fan of his and I expect him to come back. He’s got to keep a positive attitude—that’s the biggest challenge: to keep a positive attitude, be a good teammate, be a good leader, and get ready.”
Obviously, media, fans focus on quarterbacks so much, but you mentioned it’s the entire offense. Are there any other position changes that you’re considering, and what other spots on the offense really need to step up?
“I like the way the offensive line has started to come together and gel. (Redshirt junior offensive lineman) Nate Scheler had a really good game. That’s his best game that he’s had here. He played really well in there. I think with our big tackles on the edge, that helps us a lot. I think that we’ll do a good job of continuing to get better in running the football. Dae Williams took a huge step forward in the second half to carry the ball the way he did. He made some big runs, got the ball in the end zone, a guy that we really trust in pass protections. It was good to see him do that. I think that’s the heathiest that he’s really looked all fall, and the most acceleration that he’s had all fall. We started to see it in practice this week, so it was great to see it show up in the game.”
Will he [Dae Williams] start also on Saturday?
“Sometimes, starters are determined on what personnel group runs out there first. I would anticipate that he would, but we’ve got to wait and see what personnel group we throw out there.”
The other injured guys – Do you have an update on [senior safety] Dee Smith? It seemed like he was a big loss for you.
“No, I don’t. Mondays – we’re out of practice today. We don’t have any work today. It’s their day they have labs and school, so they come in at different times throughout the day. So, I’ll meet with (Senior Director of Sports Medicine/Football) Matt Summers here later tonight.”
On the defense with [redshirt junior linebacker] Jon [Greenard] and [sophomore linebacker] Dorian [Etheridge] out. How difficult has it been in the front seven and what ways do you have of making up for those absences with two of the more important players out?
“Certainly, we miss Jon, his leadership and pass rush ability. I do think the guys that have been filling in for him have done nice job. TP (Tabarius Peterson) continues to get better. Jarrett had made some huge plays for us and shows his ability. That’s a big guy that can move. They end up just getting better and better. But we miss Jon, there’s no question about that. Dorian’s loss is a big one because he was the communicator. He was the guy that making the calls, telling everyone what to do, making the checks. That was a lot of teaching, a lot of things to get done in that short period of time. I thought (freshman linebacker) Robert Hicks played well, he played hard. He’s a really good football player, and he’s just physical and fast and plays hard. He still has a lot to learn, but he did play well.”
Puma, I think he threw three passes, and all three the receivers got hands on. Looking back on it, did you feel like you took him out too soon?
“No, I didn’t think so. I felt like he did have some bad luck. I think probably the one I didn’t like was the sack. He’s out of the pocket, and he knows he can just throw the ball away. He did have a guy open earlier on that, but to go from 2nd-and-10 to 2nd-and-16, or 17 I think it might have even have been, that’s hard. I just felt like all week long they rotated reps in practice, and I felt like it was the right thing to do. I was looking for some energy and some change in the offense moving the ball.”
How does the passing game change with Malik in charge?
“I mean, we do some different things, but they’ve both been executing the same thing. Malik can throw the ball down the field, he can make the throws we need to make. Obviously, you saw that on the strike on the post route that we didn’t catch. I liked the next pass that he made because it was a pass to (junior wide receiver) Seth Dawkins. Some people might say that, ‘Hey, that ball was behind him, and Seth made a great catch,’ but it actually was a perfect throw because it was the only way he could throw it where it’d be then completed because there was a defender further out wide of Seth. So, he had to slow it down, throw it to his back shoulder and cause Seth to make the sliding catch, so it was the only place he could have thrown it. I thought that was his best throw of the night to be honest with you.”
That throw in particular, does it mean something as well that he made an almost perfect throw down on that post and it wasn’t caught, and he didn’t get his head down and actually executed the very next play. Is that important to see?
“I think it’s real important. I think it’s something you have to do as a quarterback is put the previous play behind you, whether it’s a good play, whether it’s a bad play, whether you throw a touchdown or interception. The most important thing as a quarterback is the next play. We’ve had guys that have had trouble sometimes after they throw a touchdown. They want to celebrate and pump and come back and aren’t really focused for the next two or three plays. Sometimes you have quarterbacks that have trouble after an interception or after something bad happens that they can’t move on to the next play. That’s something you always work on with quarterbacks, the next play is always the most important.”
Since we didn’t ask you about Western Kentucky last week in this press conference, Virginia this week, they’ve got more of a running quarterback, they scored 45, I think, it was on Saturday, they’re usually a pretty athletic team. What are the primary challenges facing them?
“We’ve got to be able to do a good job defensively. The quarterback can throw the ball and run it. They run a more option game than they have in the past, so that’s something that’s new to them, and also, new for us to defend. Defensively, they still have the same unique style where they play a three-down front and a four-down front. They’ve got a lot of guys over there that we’ve played against before; an outside linebacker who’s a really good player, an inside linebacker who started for a couple years against us, the same corner that we played against last year, so we’re familiar with a lot of them. They always do a good job in their defensive package, but I think it’s something that we have to go execute and play well, but we’re going to have to defend them. We have to eliminate their big plays. We always worry about that receiver they have who’s explosive. They give him the ball a lot of different ways.”
Western Kentucky ran for more yards than they have in a while. Is there any particular reason why they were so effective? What does your rush defense need to do?
“They were pretty stubborn about handing it off and running it, and in the first half, we gave up some plays that we shouldn’t have. I was happy the way we came back in the second half and defended the run. I think we held them to 54 yards and 3.0 yards an attempt in the second half, but certainly not in the first half. I think the thing that showed up more than anything is getting off the field on third down. That’s what we really have to improve on defense is getting off the field, particularly when it’s 3rd-and-8 plus.”
Coach, you’ve talked about [freshman running backs] Hassan [Hall] and Javian [Hawkins], getting them more touches, but you’ve gotten behind or had to play a different style both weeks. Is it a matter of trying to get them in the game plan a little earlier, or do you like what you see when you’ve gotten them in there?
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen. We didn’t have a lot of possessions and a lot of snaps the other night. I think in the second half, we had four possessions and we moved the ball and scored. I think we had a field goal and two touchdowns and then ran out the clock. We have to do a good job of getting more possessions, more time. A lot of that has to come in the first half. We’re not playing the game the way I would like to play it. I always like to play aggressive, we’re good on offense and we go score points in the first half, we get ahead. Then, the other team has to throw the ball. That’s when you get sacks and turnovers, when the other team has to play from behind. We have to force those issues by being able to score on offense in the first quarter.”
On the blocked field goal, can you kind of go through that because it looked like on the replay, you had the entire line all the way back there and a number of guys could have blocked it. You’ve talked about that’s an improvement this year. Why do you think you guys are better at that?
“We’ve worked really hard at it. And, one of the reasons we worked really hard at it is for the field goal team—where the threats are on our field goal team and the fact that we feel like we need to do a better job than we did a year ago. So, in doing that, then I made the defense work harder at it and get the looks at it and then it just so happened that [Jared] Goldwire has something unique timing of when to elevate and get his hand up in the air. We’re doing a better job of penetrating and getting push. We have a block team where sometimes, some years, we’ve just put the base defense out there and that’s something I didn’t want to do. I wanted to get bright guys on the field and have a block team. So, big Dez [Fitzpatrick] helps us on there, he pushes the pile. Jared helps us because he really can accelerate and push the pile. Goldwire got a good block and I’m looking forward to Marlon [Character] getting a block for us. I think in junior college he had four blocked field goals. So, it’s one of those things that you just try to work hard at and it sure paid off the other night, but we did do that in practice. I think we’ve had three or four blocks in practice that were very similar. I know that Goldwire got three of them.”
You said after the game that it was a bad call on your part on fourth down. What was going through your mind? What was your thinking when you made that call?
“I don’t think anything that was going through. I think it was just completely lost my mind. (laughter) Exactly. You’re exactly right. What the heck. It’s the nature of the business, man, and if it’s a bad call, it’s a bad call, if we make it, it’s a good call. It’s just how it goes. I’m not going to lose my mind again.”
Do you have a card on when to go for two and what was your thinking on it?
“Yeah, we do. We do. And the card said go for two. But the timing of the game is something that we’ve really studied over the years, and if there’s enough time, we’ve now determined that we’re going to forget the card in this situation and just go for one. And then that helped us not…if you don’t make it and it’s 14-12, then all of a sudden, it’s bad. And then I was second guessing that too late in the game thinking, ‘Are we ever going to get the ball back? Maybe I should have went for two.’ You know what I mean? I actually said those words to myself when we were having trouble and they made that long drive. I thought we would get it back right away. They made them start on the 10-yard line and we just didn’t do it. But yeah, you have a guy upstairs and what he’s instructed to say is exactly that. ‘The card says go for two,’ or ‘Tell the defense that the card says they’ll go for two.’ He doesn’t say ‘Go for two,’ he says, ‘The card says,’ and sometimes the card says early in the game kick. Fourth quarter, go for two. So, it was right at the start of the fourth quarter. We had discussed it and I said, ‘no, we’re just going to go for one here.’ And that is kind of been a change throughout the career. I remember we lost a game one time when I was coaching with John L. (Smith) and we went for two early and didn’t get it. And then it compounds the next time. We actually scored more touchdowns than the other team and lost the game. It’s one of those things where sometimes you don’t believe the card.”
Is this your card or is there like a generic card that we can have?
“Yeah, we can give you a copy of it. It’s pretty close to probably being the same for everybody. I mean it’s just something that you studied over the years and it’s kind of math, I guess. We had a situation where we were going to go for two. It’s like, if you’re ahead by six, go for two or no, ahead by six, go for one, ahead by five go for two. So, it was whether we were going to be up by five or not. So, you’re always thinking, we want to be ahead by seven or ahead by three. So, you’re kind of always working on those numbers of touchdowns and field goals, and so, the card there said down by two, go for two. But early in the game, it’s kind of proven over the years that you kick the field goal or kick the extra point and then if you have to catch up later, you catch up later.
One of the trends in the NFL is going for it more on fourth down, not fourth and three, that kind of thing, but going for it more. Have you found yourself going for it more of that out there?
“Yeah, the analytics and there’s a lot of analytics that say go for it on fourth down and got all that information and, like I said, it works good if you get it. Don’t get it., it doesn’t work good. It’s just how it is, that’s the way it goes. But the analytics do tell you that you should go for it on fourth down more and you have better chance of winning the game. But, that’s if you make it on fourth down.”
Speaking of analytics, only eight percent of the kickoffs after three weeks have been fair caught, does that surprise you across college football?
“Are they all just going in the end zone?” (I think that touchback is up like 10 percent from last year is what it was. Is that, have you changed your thought?) “Not really, no. I get mad when we practice it and work really hard on it, and then, they kick them all in the end zone. And your statistics there should say to just take the ball at the 25. So, that’s what I get upset on is when you work hard on the kickoff returns and then you never get a chance to return it. I didn’t really know how that would come out. You know, the other night too, is we kicked the ball in the end zone and the guy had caught the ball and then one of their guys came over and made a big block on one of our guys. That seems like you’re defeating the purpose—that we should be blowing the whistle when he catches the ball in the end zone, and then the block’s not made, because it’s all supposed to be about player safety. And then they forget about that sometime because- I had a big discussion with the officials on, “Okay, it’s a kickoff after a safety. You fair catch the ball. Now, do we get the ball at the 35 or the 40-yard line?’ You know what the answer is? ‘No.’ How would you know? Why don’t you, it’s about player safety, right? So, they should, it should adjust just like when you kick it out of bounds. But it’s not. It’s wherever you fair catch it if it’s kicked off after a safety. So, that changes a little bit too.”