LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Well, you can't say Bobby Petrino doesn't know how to fire up a friendly crowd and leave them wanting more.
Dispensing briefly with cautionary “coachspeak” near the end of Friday's Louisville football kickoff luncheon, the UofL coach made a bold prediction about the Cardinals' season-opening game against defending national champion Alabama:
"I believe we're gonna go beat 'em," Petrino said. "And we will go beat 'em."
Cue the approving roar from the fans who packed a ballroom in the Louisville Marriott Downtown.
OK, that's taken slightly out of context, but it's the part of the quote that will be repeated by the media and be beaten into the heads of the Tide players ad nauseum between now and the Sept. 1 kickoff in Orlando.
So, in the interest of journalistic integrity, here is Petrino's complete comment because there were a lot of qualifications before he uttered the two most provocative lines.
“They’re a very good football team,” Petrino said. “They’ve got a great tradition. We’re excited to play them. It’s a great challenge, and we know that.
“But I’m going to tell you this: If we can get where we have every single player on our team, every single coach on our team, to believe like I believe — because I believe we’re gonna go beat ’em — so I need everybody else to believe that. And we will go beat ’em.”
That's a lot of ifs and obviously easier said than done, but Petrino has apparently already done a good job instilling confidence in his players, who seem unconcerned about providing bulletin board material to Alabama, which is a 25-point favorite.
Typical was junior linebacker Jonathan Greenard, who said of playing the No. 1 Tide: “It’s definitely a fun experience, going against the No. 1 team, the defending champions. You can’t get any better than that. You’re going to learn something from this game, win or win.”
UofL athletic director Vince Tyra joined in too, mentioning that he had attended last season's national championship game won by Alabama, "who we're going to play and beat."
Other than the hot topic of Alabama, Petrino offered a few more insights on his team.
Petrino said he's been happy with the progress of the running backs, who are in a three-way battle for the starting job. He said Trey Smith “continues to do a lot of really good things,” Dae Williams “has done a nice job” and Colin Wilson “has shown really good spurts.”
Petrino said star wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who underwent an appendectomy on Aug. 3, has gotten cleared to start working out as much as he can tolerate, but has not yet returned to practice, which could come sometime next week.
He said he continues to be impressed with the Cards' speed. "This is the fastest team we've ever had, as far as the stopwatch goes," but that kind of speed isn't enough.
“One thing that we've really tried to do since we came here as a staff is to be the fastest team in the ACC,” Petrino said. “You do it a number of ways, but the first thing you do is go out and recruit speed. We've got some guys who have run amazing track times, and they're really fast.
"So that's one way to be fast, but the other way to be fast is to play fast. The way you do that is understand what you're doing, you understand what Alabama is going to do, then you have complete confidence in it so there's no hesitation and you line up and go full speed, with all the confidence in the world.”
Petrino once again repeated his belief that Louisville's offense will be better without former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
“I was asked at media days how the offense is going to do now that Lamar's gone," he said, "and my answer was, 'We're going to be better.' And people kind of looked at me, laughed a little bit. I expect us to be better on offense. Our expectations on offense, we expect to be the No. 1 offense in the country. That's what our job is, that's what we believe we can do. And, by gosh, we've done it a number of times, so we might as well do it again this year.”
UofL will scrimmage Saturday, then begin concentrating on preparation for Alabama on Monday.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.