SYRACUSE, NY --- When Louisville took the field against Syracuse Saturday, a cardboard cut-out of Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib was waiting for them with this message taped onto it:
Ryan Nassib said, "We have NEVER lost on senior day." (Saturday is senior day)
After the Cards ran out of the tunnel, the cut-out laid punched, torn, and tattered on the ground. But Charlie Strong's latest motivational tactic did not work.
Louisville's defense had no answer for the real Ryan Nassib and the Orange offense, losing for the first time this season 45-26. Those 45 points were the most UofL has surrendered in the Charlie Strong era, and the most since a 63-14 loss at Rutgers in December of 2008.
"Very embarrassing day for our program," were the first words out of Strong's mouth after the game. "The preparation wasn't there. The execution wasn't there. We didn't play well in all three phases of the game."
It was the first time Syracuse had beaten a top-10 team since 2002.
Nassib threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns, but the bigger issue was Louisville's complete inability to stop the run, as the Orange rolled up 278 yards on the ground, including big, gashing touchdown runs of 55 and 35 yards.
"It was tackling issues and guys not staying in their gap, and it's all about gap control," said Strong. "We had them in 3rd down, and it was completion after completion. They were able to convert on 3rd down."
"We've been giving up a lot of yards on defense, and we've been able to find ways to get turnovers," said junior linebacker Preston Brown. "We had no turnovers. So, you see what happens when you don't."
"It hurts real bad, because as a team, we wanted to go undefeated," said junior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn. "But we let down today."
But there is a silver lining for the now once beaten Cardinals, and it's a big one. Yes, the perfect season is over, but Louisville was never in contention for the BCS Championship Game anyway.
The real goal has always been a Big East Championship and a BCS Bowl birth. This loss to Syracuse has zero affect on those goals. Louisville still controls its own destiny.
A home game against lowly UConn, then the game EVERYONE has had circled for a while now: a Thursday night at Rutgers. Beat UConn, and even if Rutgers loses its next two Big East games, that weeknight in Piscataway will decide the Big East championship, because the winner will have the potential tiebreaker (even if a Louisville win were to create a 3-way tie, the Cards would have the BCS ranking tiebreaker).
So the Ryan Nassib cardboard cut-out tactic didn't work. Nothing worked. But Louisville just lost a game with no consequences.