There’s a big elephant in the room here, and it isn’t Big Al this time.
Lamar Jackson is no longer the head man of a dynamic Louisville offense, and the Cardinals have some work to do to figure out how to replace him. Any offense with Bobby Petrino as the head coach is going to live and die by the quarterback, but it will likely be more of a pass-heavy pro offense, rather than the college spread that we saw the last couple of years.
QB Jawon Pass (Funny story: a few years ago, Pass was getting ready to commit, and Alabama was one of his schools. I pre-wrote an article just in case he chose the Tide, and then somehow it got posted before the commitment happened. I got a bunch of egg on my face, and Pass ended up a Cardinal.) is slated to be handed the keys to the Petrino offense. Here’s what John said in our Q&A with Card Chronicles last week:
While we’ve never seen a Puma Pass offense for more than a few plays Petrino confirmed a few weeks ago they will likely lean more towards his prototypical offense that fans saw during his first stint at Louisville with a more balanced run/pass attack, wide open formations, and more wheel routes than a monster truck show. Pass is no Lamar, but neither is anyone else. I’d expect to see Puma in the pocket probably 80% of the time, trying to just get some easy completions early and let his playmakers work. As the game progresses you know Petrino will take some shots downfield a few times, but do not be surprised to see some “Lamar-esque” play calls with RPOs or the inverted veer. Jawon isn’t the fastest guy on the team but he can cover some ground quick with his 6-4 frame if the defense gives him space. First start of his career isn’t going to be easy, but I think he will surprise some folks with how well he handles it.
He’s a big guy with a big arm and tons of deep-ball talent. The question will be if he’s ready for the prime-time against a Raekwon Davis-led front 7 that is hungry for sacks.
He’ll be throwing to a trio of wide receivers that are widely considered one of the best in the nation. Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins combined for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Smith, the senior of the group, is recovering from an appendectomy, but is expected to play. He’s a 6’4” 220-pound monster of a receiver with nearly 2000 receiving yards in his career so far. Dawkins and Fitzpatrick are 6’3” and 6’2”, respectfully. It’s a tall, strong receiving corps with speed and hands to burn— a cornerback’s nightmare, especially a group that is comprised of all new starters.
The running back group is a little less terrifying, though still talented. 220-pound Trey Smith is the projected leader of the pack. The former wide receiver only had 124 rushing yards last year, but was recently named the starter in UL’s official depth chart. Behind him, Colin Wilson and Dae Williams both return from season-ending injuries in 2017. Expect a running back-by-committee kind of approach, as Petrino works to find which of these backs will take the reins and become the lead back. On top of being expected to keep up a power running game, every back figures to factor heavily in the passing game as well.
Along the offensive line, Louisville returns a strong group of starters. OWB here at Roll Bama Roll said this earlier this week:
Compounding the potential power of the Cardinals’ ground game is the fact that they return four veteran starters to an offensive line that improved in 2017. Between LT Linwood Foy (6-4, 299 pounds), LG Kenny Thomas (6-6, 320 pounds), C Robby Bell (6-5, 298 pounds), RG Lukayus McNeil (6-6, 300 pounds), and RT Mekhi Becton (6-7, 359 pounds), that unit has 77 combined starts. Expect Petrino to leverage the massive right side of the line behind McNeil and Becton, as the pair of man-mountains could be quite effective in opening seams for the physical running attack.
Becton in particular was one of the best offensive linemen in the nation last year, and is an absolute mountain of a man. But with great size often comes a decline in flexibility and speed. Expect defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi to put his best speed rushers (maybe moving Dylan Moses on 3rd down) lined up across from Becton to test his ability to backpedal on a pure speed rush.
All in all, this is as talented an offense as Alabama will face all season. Though they will be breaking in a new QB, the offensive line and receivers return some of the best in the nation, while the stable of running backs has a lot of talent, if not proven production yet. It will definitely be a test for a green Alabama secondary, who will likely be depending heavily on a more experienced front seven to throw the new QB off of his groove.