Parker got 5 yards behind the secondary and raced toward the end zone. But with his foot not quite 100 percent, Parker got tackled from behind at the 4 and ended up with a 71-yard gain. Louisville ended up with no points after failing to convert on fourth down, and the opening drive perfectly summed up the Cards to date.
What could have been ...
What could have been with a healthy Parker on that drive? Does he still get caught from behind, or does he score, changing the complexion of a game Louisville eventually lost?
What could have been with a healthy Parker the entire season? Does Louisville lose to Virginia and Clemson?
When Parker broke a bone in his foot in August, many thought his injury would be a game-changer. It turned out to be exactly that. Louisville, with a new coach and new starting quarterback, never found a rhythm offensively through the first seven games of the season without its best player.
The Cardinals had no deep threat, nobody who could allow them to effectively use play action, nobody to stretch the field, nobody to cause a matchup headache. These last two games have been proof. With Parker back in the lineup, Louisville has resembled the offense coach Bobby Petrino hoped they would be when the season began.
Add a healthy Michael Dyer into the mix, and you see how much talent this offense had been missing. Parker and Dyer have combined for 653 yards, or 77 percent of the team’s total offense the last two games.
Against Florida State, Parker had 214 yards receiving -- the single-best performance of any ACC receiver this season; Dyer had three touchdowns.
“I have liked the way we have operated the last two weeks more than we did earlier in the year being able to mix the run, the pass, the play-action game,” Petrino told reporters in Louisville on Monday. “I think we are getting closer to what we like to do offensively, but it does start up front and we have a good challenge this week being able to handle their big guys up front and making sure we get some space, some room to run the ball.”
No doubt Louisville needs both players to continue the tear they have been on at Boston College on Saturday, especially since this is the Cards’ final ACC game of the season. Closing Year 1 in ACC play at 5-3 would be a nice accomplishment, given some of the offensive struggles.
They were particularly evident in losses at Virginia and Clemson, when Louisville combined to score 38 points and had less than 300 yards total offense in both games. The loss at Clemson was particularly tough to take. All they needed was 2 yards for the game-winning score with 21 seconds left.
You think Parker and Dyer would have made a difference?
Quite possible. As Gardner said after the loss to Florida State, “When you've got a guy like that making big plays, he changes the whole offense. He's a big playmaker for us.”
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Parker rated the second-best receiver in the draft, and No. 19 overall on his 2015 Big Board, which came out before the Florida State game.
But even with two excellent games in 2014, we are still not seeing the best Parker has to offer.
"You can see him do that in practice sometimes where he really shows bursts and then pulls off a little bit the further he gets down the field and I’m sure he doesn’t feel like he is exactly where he would want to be," Petrino said. "He is a tremendous football player and he has done an unbelievable job the last two weeks for us, making plays and making great catches and getting open but I do think he continues to get better and last week in practice was a significant improvement from the previous week and I am hoping we see that again this week.”
Parker has been fantastic without being completely healthy. Imagine what a full-strength Parker will do in his final few college games.