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From the Louisville Courier-Journal

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From the Louisville Courier-Journal

From Louisville, Ky.:

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Monday, September 12, 2005

U of L's freshmen trying to find their way on field

By Eric Crawford
[email protected]
The Courier-Journal

University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino is anything but bashful when it comes to playing freshmen.

He used nine last season and eight the year before. He gave quarterback Brian Brohm a regular game-week slot even though starter Stefan LeFors was the most efficient passer in the nation.

For all of that, however, Petrino has been very cautious about throwing his freshmen into the fire too soon. For a coach who has built a reputation for his unpredictability on offense, Petrino likes to be able to predict what he is going to see from his team. And freshmen are unpredictable.

"The main thing is that you don't want to put a player in a position where he could make a big mistake in a big situation," he said "You want to put them in a position to succeed."

U of L's current first-year players learned that lesson in the Cardinals' season-opening 31-24 win at Kentucky. Redshirt freshman Mario Urrutia said he kept trying to get into Petrino's line of sight on the sideline – not a tough task at 6 feet 6. Redshirt freshman running back George Stripling stayed close by the coach, turning in sterling special-teams play and waiting for his number to be called.

Some of their more experienced teammates could relate. Running back Michael Bush got only two touches in his first game at UK. Brohm wasn't even going to get into last year's biggest game, at Miami, until LeFors went down with an injury.

But as has been the case with other first-year players, patience will be rewarded, Petrino said.

This week Petrino has put Urrutia, Stripling and true freshman defensive lineman Earl Heyman on notice that their chance is coming when the No. 11-ranked Cardinals (1-0) play their home opener against Oregon State (2-0) at noon Saturday.

Urrutia said Petrino appears not only to have loosened the reins on the young players but on the entire offense. Last week the coach acknowledged that he's much more conservative calling plays in openers. The stats bear that out. In his first two seasons, the Cardinals averaged 179 passing yards in two openers against UK but averaged 304 yards passing in the two games that followed the victories.

"He told me to get ready," Urrutia said. "And that's good with me. We've been doing quite a bit more throwing downfield, and I've been getting to run a lot of the routes I like. So I'm ready to go."

Stripling, who has been considered a future starter at running back since arriving at U of L, figures to begin adding to the team's depth. Petrino said he'd like to get Stripling some carries while also increasing the workload of Kolby Smith, who averaged 6.3 yards on 12 carries against UK.

"We've got great running backs," Stripling said. "And I know Coach knows what he's doing. My job is just to make good things happen every time I get out on the field. If that's special teams, I'm going to do it on special teams. If I need to get in and pass protect or run the ball, I'm going to do that. The main thing is at the end of the game we're walking off the field with a win."

Petrino likes to play freshmen. Or, more appropriately, he likes to recruit freshmen who are ready to play right away. But stronger recruiting classes the past two years have made it more difficult for freshmen to crack the lineup. Cornerback Rod Council is competing for a starting job this season and might have been in that mix last season, but Petrino didn't use the redshirt freshman.

"I just view it that if I work hard enough and play well enough that I could really help the team. I'll get in there," said Heyman, who did not play against UK. "But you know coming into this program that there are a lot of great players and it's going to be hard to step in and get on the field right away."

Petrino said that any contribution the first-year players can make will be significant.

"Any time those young guys can get out on the field and make a big play, it's great for us," Petrino said. "Guys like Kolby and Michael did that last year, and we saw a guy like (receiver) Harry Douglas get out late in the season and do some big things. The more of that we get from the young guys on this team, the better team we're going to be."

U of L still has about 1,000 tickets available for Saturday's game from the visiting- team allotment returned by Oregon State. Tickets are available at the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium ticket office, through TicketMaster locations or ticketmaster.com, or by calling (502) 361-3100.

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