Puma healthy, gets the nod at quarterback vs. Western

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino has often said he believes in second chances, and now quarterback Jawon Puma Pass has become the latest beneficiary of that philosophy.


Despite a poor outing against Indiana State last week that contrasted with a much better performance by backup Malik Williams, Pass will once more be the starter Saturday when U of L (1-1) meets Western Kentucky (0-2) at 7:30 p.m. in Cardinal Stadium.


Petrino made the announcement Thursday night on his radio show, defending the redshirt sophomore in the process, in part because he had to deal with the worst of the heavy rain that fell throughout the evening.


"It was a hard night for him," Petrino said of Pass. "It was really hard to throw the ball in that weather and he had some things not good for him too. Had a couple of dropped balls, one for an easy first down early in the game that gets your momentum going. Then the second drive we start on our own 2-yard line.


"He just didn't have the opportunity to play the way he's been practicing, the way he played at Alabama. But he'll be back. I've got all the confidence in the world that he'll be back and execute and play extremely well."


Puma completed 8-of-14 passes for 89 yards, with an interception, in U of L's 31-7 win over the Sycamores after going 20-of-39 for 252 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, in the opening 51-14 loss to Alabama.


Pass suffered a turf toe injury in the first half against ISU, but Petrino said he's "healthy and good to go."


It's a good oppportunity for Pass to regain his confidence with a solid performance against a bad WKU team that has lost seven of its last eight games. And, just as importantly, the weather forecast is for clear skies with temperatures in the mid-80s and no rain in sight.


However, even if Pass plays well this time, Williams - a redshirt freshman - likely earned additional playing time with his performance against ISU. Entering the game with the score tied at 7-7, Williams led the Cardinals on four scoring drives in five possessions while completing 6-of-7 passes for 75 yards and a TD while also rushing for 54 yards on 12 carries.


"Everybody has a lot of confidence in Malik," Petrino said. "He does a really nice job, he's really fast, he executes the option game and he also can throw the ball. We made him throw the ball late in the game and he did some really nice things with it, so it's a situation where they both can play the game of football."


The quarterbacks will be operating behind an offensive line that was revamped for Indiana State after coaches analyzed video of the Alabama game and decided some changes were needed.


In the opener, sophomore Mekhi Becton started at right tackle, with senior Linwood Foy at left tackle; senior Kenny Thomas was at left guard and redshirt senior Lukayus McNeil at right guard; and sophomore Cole Bentley started at center.


But against Indiana State, Bentley moved to left guard, with redshirt junior and former walk-on Nate Scheler moving in to handle the snaps, and Becton and McNeil holding down the tackle spots.


Petrino said he liked the new alignment and will stick with it for the time being because he thinks U of L will be more effective with Becton and McNeil on opposite sides of the line instead of side-by-side. And Bentley played better at guard, where he was a backup last season, than he had at center in his only career start at that position after starting three games at tackle last season and also playing guard.


"I liked the way it worked out," Petrino said. "We  would love for (Becton and McNeil) to play together, but I think we really need to have the edge blocking, particularly in the passing game, and have the ability to run both ways - to our strongside line and our weakside line.


"I felt like that was one of the things Alabama did in the second half against us was just pressure the side that they played to and not allow us to run the ball behind them and that hurt us. So we have them split up now.


"They do a great job of holding the edges down and both of them can power run block, so that helps us. Our guards can pull and run and showed good speed doing that, so I think it's a good combination."

 

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 www.0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

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