NASHVILLE, TN — Before the season started, Louisville (7-5, 5-3 ACC) head coach Bobby Petrino said that he wanted the Cardinals to be the “fastest” team in the Atlantic Coastal Conference. Twelve games later, and it’s obvious that they’re not quite there.
Not by Petrino’s standards, at least.
“I think we still have a ways to go,” Petrino said during Tuesday’s Music City Bowl press conference. “When you look at Clemson and Florida State, and the speed that they possess, I do feel like being a fast football team is not just your 40 time. Being a fast football team is really understanding what our schemes are and what you’re supposed to do, and then having a great understanding of the other side of the football.
Louisville isn’t the fastest team in the ACC, no, but it’s close. The Cardinals, who started off 2-4 before reeling off five wins in their final six games to end the regular season, have an abundance of speed on both sides of the ball; from wide receiver James Quick (no pun intended) to linebacker Devonte Fields, getting from A to B hasn’t been a problem.
It’s the youth and overall inexperience that plagued UL in 2015.
“Being a young team that we had this year, there were times when we weren’t playing fast,” said Petrino. “We were hesitating and we weren’t sure. But I do think that the last five games of the year, we got better at that. We improved, and maybe at times we cut back a little bit so that we could play faster.”
On offense, Louisville ranks No. 3 in the ACC in plays that result in 10 yards or more (201) behind North Carolina and Clemson. It enters the postseason with the fifth-most plays at 20-plus yards (67), and is 6th with 28 plays of 30 yards or more.
Defensively, the Cardinals are 3rd in the conference in opponent plays that end with 10 yards or more (138), 4th in 20-plus (46), and are No. 5 in big plays that go for 30 and beyond (24). They also are one turnover short of being tied for first in the ACC in total takeaways (24), for what it’s worth. (They’re t-16th nationally in interceptions with 16.)
Are they the fastest team Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) has seen this year? No, probably not. But it’s enough for the Aggies — who are down to their third-string quarterback and are without star receiver Speedy Noil on offense, and rank 42nd in total defense (367.2 yards allowed per game) — to have some cause for concern.
“So you have both sides, and I thought that from a team speed standpoint, that’s probably the challenge we have, when you get outside your conference, that you’re able to look at different teams and say, ‘Alright, we played these guys, see where they are here,’ said Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. “The interesting thing about bowl games, I think, is you really don’t have any real judge for that, and being able to get up to game speed, adjusting to speed in this game is going to be very, very important, because we haven’t played since Thanksgiving week.
“It’s easy to see what coach is talking about, because this is a fast football team that we are playing against, and our challenge is going to be to get to game speed in a hurry and kick them.”
Louisville and Texas A&M are scheduled to begin play on Wednesday, Dec. 30, at 6 p.m. ET in the Music City Bowl.
*Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand