Behind Enemy Lines: 5 Questions with a Louisville beat writer

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, right, talks with freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon (7) during a timeout late in the NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. Louisville beat Wake Forest 20-10. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Dabo Swinney says Louisville is capable of winning the ACC. The schedule says Louisville might not beat an FBS team until Halloween costume shops are out of costumes.

They’re both right (in theory.)

The Cardinals are, indeed, 0-0 in ACC play. Personally, this beat writer covering Clemson thought the Cardinals were severely underrated in preseason polls, and represented the Tigers’ toughest individual game on their slate throughout the postseason - yes, even tougher than visits from Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

And Louisville might still be just that. However, if Louisville can’t snap Clemson’s streak of 31 consecutive victories against teams outside the Associated Press top 25 Thursday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the Cards will be dealt an 0-3 record, and after hosting next week, they’ve got trips to North Carolina State and Florida State, the latter on Oct. 17 - a month from tomorrow’s gameday.

Yeesh. 1-5 is possible. An ACC crown in December is possible. Anything is possible.

What’s more than possible is some certain insight provided by Louisville Courier-Journal beat man Jeff Greer, who joins the Tiger Tracks blog today breaking down Louisville’s quarterbacks, receivers and keys to victory tomorrow night at The Pie. (Can we call it the Pie?)

You’ll want to follow Jeff on Twitter (as well as his coverage partner, Steve Jones) for the game, and for the rest of the season to track Louisville.

Aaron Brenner, The Post and Courier: What exactly do you make of the Cardinals quarterback conundrum?

Jeff Greer, Louisville Courier-Journal: At this point, I think it’s just a byproduct of having, really, four solid options and being finicky enough to switch them every game. It’s hard to pick one when you have four quality quarterbacks, and it’s even harder to stick with one if he struggles. Reggie Bonnafon struggled, so they switched to Lamar Jackson, who was great before he struggled. If Kyle Bolin, my guess for the starter on Thursday, struggles at all, do they switch again? You can’t play musical chairs all season.

Brenner: Staying on offense, three of Louisvilles four leading receivers are true freshmen. First off, how did Louisville land in that situation? And how are the rooks doing trying to replicate DeVante Parkers production - are they on the field because of their talent or because of lack of veterans?

Greer: Injuries. They have three veterans nursing injuries right now, including James Quick, who was supposed to have a breakout year. Jamari Staples and Alphonso Carter are two big, physical guys who can really help, but Quick’s ... quickness ... (sorry) is potentially game-breaking. The young guys playing are all promising prospects, especially Traveon Samuel, but there’s something to be said for experience and maturity. That’s why JaQuay Savage, a Texas A&M transfer, will be important until those other guys are healthy again.

Brenner: Statistically, Louisvilles defense doesnt look too pretty, but then again, opening the year with Auburn, Houston and now Clemson wont exactly make any defensive coordinator feel at ease. Do you think the Cardinals can slow down the Tigers offense the way they did at Death Valley last year - with the benefit of its home crowd, but (presumably) without the benefit of Deshaun Watson exiting early?

Greer: Jury’s out on the defense. Houston had a shifty, super-fast quarterback who had no problems getting out of the pocket, but Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, who was supposedly a darkhorse Heisman candidate, struggled. Both teams ran on Louisville, but I think part of that was because they were on the field for too long and it caught up with them. This Clemson game is a great test for Louisville, and Watson is the most talented guy they’ll have seen so far. Jury should have a decision on Friday.

Brenner: Bobby Petrino has a record of 11-3 in his Louisville career coming off a loss (including season openers after bowl defeats.) Most people think of the negative headlines when it comes to Petrino; tactically, what makes him a good football coach?

Greer: He’s typically very good at adjusting to the players on his roster. Last year’s team was built around DeVante Parker. When he was hurt, Louisville relied more on an attacking defense and a persistent running game, the game plan Clemson fans saw in October last year. He’s also a talented play caller who lures defense into a pattern and then surprises them. This team, though, has not had the same verve and swagger to it that Petrino’s previous squads have had.

Brenner: Louisville is currently a 6-point underdog. Whats an event or two (or three) that needs to happen for the Cards to pull off the mild upset and avoid the dreaded 0-3 start?

Greer: It wouldn’t hurt to get a big special teams play like they did at home vs. Miami or a few early turnovers like they against FSU. Those two things last year allowed Louisville to grab some early momentum in big games. I would also say maybe two or three first-half scoring drives with the same quarterback at the helm would help. Give him some mojo and leave little doubt that he is going to start the second half. Then, in fourth quarter, a third-down stop here and a third-down conversion there would make a world of difference. They didn’t get those this past weekend.

-AB