LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Many moons ago, three wise men decided they needed to get away for a weekend to pick each other’s brains about offensive football. So they rented a meeting room in a Louisville hotel and spent a couple of days talking about plays, formations and philosophies.
They went into complete lockdown mode: No phone calls, no interruptions, no straying from the topic at hand. Just Xs and Os, hour after hour. Videos and tapes were examined. They shared ideas about passing routes, third-down situations and even trickeration plays.
Bobby Petrino, Jeff Brohm and Bob Beatty each walked away from that weekend a smarter coach. Each gave the others something to ponder and perhaps use in the future. They spoke each other’s language. At the end, they took the "Do Not Disturb" sign off the door and wished each other well.
At the time, Petrino was in his first era as head football coach at the University of Louisville. Brohm, a former star quarterback at Trinity High and UofL, was an assistant at Illinois. And Beatty was early in what has become a legendary career as the Trinity head coach.
Fast forward to today. Beatty is working to build yet another state champ at Trinity, but Petrino is beginning the fourth year of his second era at UofL and Brohm is the rookie head coach at Purdue. Their teams will kick off the 2017 season against each other at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers have established UofL as a 24.5-point favorite mainly because the Cardinals return brilliant quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the storied Heisman Trophy last season as a sophomore.
Interestingly, however, it is one of Beatty’s former Trinity players who may vex Brohm the most. After playing multiple positions his first three years, senior Reggie Bonnafon seems to have found a home at running back. Bigger and stronger than ever, but just as fast, Bonnafon should be an effective safety valve for Jackson. He can run, catch the ball coming out of the backfield and even pass if necessary.
To offensive minds such as Petrino, Brohm and Beatty, the idea of playing Jackson and Bonnafon together gets the creative juices flowing. Their talents provide a blank easel upon which an imaginative coach can paint dramatic new strokes. A masterpiece is not out of the question.
Brohm, who took the Purdue job after a wildly successful three seasons at Western Kentucky, has a roster that is not exactly brimming with talent and potential. Yet if his defense turns out to be as stout as Brohm thinks it will be, you can bet he will come up with an offense that will remind Boilermaker fans of the glory days when superb quarterbacks such as Len Samuels, Bob Griese, Mike Phipps, Mark Hermann and Drew Brees called Purdue’s signals.
All that’s certain is that no team will be better prepared for UofL than Purdue. Several of Brohm’s staff members, including his brothers Greg and Brian, former Cards themselves, have ties to the Cardinal program. Petrino recently joked that he saw most of the Purdue staff at his daughter’s wedding this summer.
Brohm probably will try to keep the UofL offense off-balance, not to mention offsides, with a variety of plays designed to get the Boilermakers enough points to give them a chance heading into the fourth quarter. It’s quite likely that no matter what Brohm does, the disparity in talent is too great to overcome. But he proved at Western that he knows how to get the best out of players who were overlooked by schools from the Big Five conferences.
Brohm can afford to gamble because there are no great expectations for Purdue. If he can somehow find a way to win five games, he would be hailed as a miracle worker in West Lafayette. So the Cards’ defense and special teams unit need to be ready for the unexpected.
It’s different, of course, at UofL, which has been ranked anywhere from 14 to 17 nationally in most of the preseason polls. Besides Jackson and Bonnafon, the Cards have several players the pro scouts will be watching closely, most notably cornerback Jaire Alexander and offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, a 6-foot-7, 340-pound freshman.
At one point last season, the Cards were ranked in the nation’s top five and thinking seriously about making the four-team playoff. But then came consecutive losses to Houston on the road, Kentucky at home, and LSU at a neutral site. Seldom has a team fallen so far so fast.
Theories abound. Were the Cards (a) overrated because of their early crushing of Florida State; (b) overconfident and sloppy; (c) depleted by too many injuries to important players; (d) destroyed from within by a locker-room problem; or (e) all of the above?
Whatever, the team needs a solid victory over Purdue to show it still knows how to win. With a road game against North Carolina and a huge home game against defending national champion Clemson coming up after Purdue, the Cards don’t have the luxury of slowly building momentum.
While Jackson probably will not become the second player to win the Heisman back-to-back (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin did it in 1975 and ’76), he could be an even better player than he was last season. As a passer, he can improve his accuracy and his touch. As a runner, he needs to learn when to tuck the ball instead of straining for extra yardage. And as a leader, he needs to keep his team motivated and focused.
Probably nobody will be more interested in how the game is played than Beatty, arguably the most successful high school coach in Kentucky history. Maybe he will see Petrino or Brohm do something they discussed at their retreat all those years ago. Maybe he will see something he can teach his Trinity team this season.
As the cliché goes, great minds often think alike.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
Copyright 2017 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.