LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There is something special about weeknight games at the University of Louisville.
Some of the greatest football games in school history have occurred on non-Saturday’s, and this Thursday’s “Black Out” versus No. 9 Clemson should be no different.
Head coach Bobby Petrino was the first coach to institute “Black Outs” at UofL games, starting the tradition in 2006 when No. 3 West Virginia visited Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in an unbelievable Thursday night atmosphere, and a 44-34 win for the fifth-ranked Cardinals.
Petrino looks for the same magic this Thursday agsinst a top 10 team in the ACC opener for both schools.
“This is a big game for us,” Petrino said. “Obviously, we’re playing a very good football team. I think the atmosphere will be great. You get excited for that. We need to stay focused. Hopefully, the two games we’ve played and the competition we’ve played will help us and we’ll see improvement from last Saturday to this Thursday.”
The Cardinals are coming off a disappointing 34-31 defeat at home versus Houston last Saturday, in a game that featured a number of missed opportunities and mistakes in all three phases of the game.
While it’s difficult to get a football team prepared to play just five days, Petrino is looking forward to getting his team back on the field.
“I always envy basketball and baseball when they get to go out and play the next night and get it all behind you,” Petrino said after Monday’s practice. “But I thought they did a real nice job of understanding that we need to put it behind us, come out Sunday night, have a good attitude, work hard and earn the right to win on the practice field. We’ve had two good practices, so I’m excited about that.”
Dating back to Petrino’s first term at Louisville, he has had plenty of experience of preparing teams during a short week of preparation. His teams played every day of the week during those four seasons seasons, so five games in two days is nothing new to the sixth-year head coach.
“We’ve had the ability to play well in short weeks,” Petrino said. “I think we played Memphis on a Friday night and TCU on a Wednesday night, so we have experience dealing with the schedule. My philosophy is to get them to the game with fresh legs and a fresh mind and we’ll have a chance to win the game.”
“We’re used to dealing with it, putting a good schedule in front of it. I think our kids got rested up and we practiced at night the last two days, and got a little extra meeting time and not try to do a whole bunch of new stuff. So that’s kind of how it works.”
Louisville and Clemson will meet for the second time in school history this Thursday night, and the first since last season’s memorable game in Death Valley. The Cards lost a heart-breaker to Clemson last season as the game ended with ball on the Tigers’ one-yard line down by six points.
Clemson’s quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was injured last year in the meeting between the two schools, is one of the most dangerous players in the country.
A dual-threat player, Watson is completing over 70 percent of his throws and has put up big numbers through two games.
“First, he’s real experienced, so he operates their offense very well,” Petrino said. “He throws the deep ball extremely well. When they made the switch and brought him in a year ago he completed deep ball after deep ball, and then he has the ability to run. They haven’t asked him to run very much yet this season, but we know that he has that ability.”
With the Cardinals sitting at 0-2 for the first time in 17 years, the Cardinals are looking to their leaders to step up Thursday night in a must-win for a leg up in the ACC race. Clemson, the pre-season favorite, is a big challenge, and Petrino wants to see his leaders step up.
“I think it’s one of the key things is the leadership ability within the team,” Petrino said. “That’s one of the things I try to make sure the players understand, that they’ve got to take over the leadership, they’ve got to do their responsibility and their obligation to their teammates. This is the only time this team is going to be together and the seniors and juniors that have been around, they’ve got to see if they want to make it a special season or not.”
The first step to making it a special season begins on Thursday night in a nationally televised game against a top 10 opponent. The Cardinals have a huge task in front of them, but there is just something about these weeknight games that anything can happen.