Louisville's season of living dangerously dragged the Cardinals down against Connecticut Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Play 11 games and your football team will show what it can do – and what it cannot do. Play 11 games and your strengths will be celebrated – and your flaws exposed.
The University of Louisville's season of living dangerously finally dissolved into outright disappointment Saturday. An extremely ordinary Connecticut (5-6) team defeated the Cards, 23-20, in three overtimes in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
From 9-0 to 9-2 just like that.
"We had opportunities and we had all the eggs in the basket," U of L linebacker Daniel Brown said.
Now the eggs are scrambled – and so are the Cards' chances of finishing this season ranked in the Top 25.
The Cards danced with trouble against North Carolina, FIU, Southern Miss, South Florida and Cincinnati. They won all five games, plus four others, surging as high as ninth in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Remember when the talk around this team was actually squawking that even with a 9-0 record, U of L was being held back by the lack of respect the Big East generates?
That's not the talk any more. Now the Big East becomes Louisville's best friend. In no other league would the Cards still be in consideration for a BCS bowl bid after losing the back-to-back games to unranked teams the quality of Syracuse and UConn.
The talk now is a string of questions about whether the Cards can regroup to end a two-game slide and win at Rutgers Thursday night to salvage a piece of the Big East title and spot in a BCS bowl game. The best news of the day was that Rutgers also lost, getting dominated by Pittsburgh, 27-6.
The question now is whether quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be able to play effectively again in five days with a fractured left wrist as well as a dinged right ankle.
"He will be able to play," U of L coach Charlie Strong said.
Strong did not hesitate, but you wonder how effective Bridgewater will be considering the multiple hits that he took. He played the second half in a cast and looked uncomfortable making handoffs. The leg injury, which came in overtime, looked worse. Bridgewater was sandwiched, high and low. He pounded the turf in pain after he was twisted to the ground. But he returned to finish the game.
The Cards have issues. Many are the same ones that have been on display since September but were shrugged off because Louisville continued to win – five times by seven points or less.
This was an equal opportunity letdown. The Cards failed to score in the first half for the first time in 15 games. In fact, Louisville was trailing 10-0 nearly four minutes into the fourth quarter against a Connecticut defense that allowed 40 points to Syracuse, 19 points to Rutgers and 30 points to Western Michigan.
There was no running game. The Cards finished with 27 yards on 28 carries. Even if you dismiss the yardage lost by the U of L quarterbacks, the backs gained only 52 yards on 19 carries.
"UConn won it at the line of scrimmage," Strong said. "They two-gapped us and were able to push us back. We weren't able to get to the second level because their backers were able to get across our face."
Translation: UConn's defensive line outslugged U of L's offensive line.
Only a remarkably poised, 13-play, 92-yard drive directed by Bridgewater in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter pushed Louisville into overtime.
"His will is strong," U of L defensive lineman Roy Philon said. "Not letting his teammates down.
Considering the Huskies only scored 10 points in regulation, the temptation will be to give Strong's defense a pass. That would be a mistake.
UConn is the worst offense in the Big East. There is no debating that. The Huskies rank last in scoring (17.3 points) and rushing (87 yards per game). This is the kind of offense that a Top 25 defense overwhelms.
The Cards' defense did not overwhelm the Huskies. They let UConn drive 51 yards for a field goal in the first quarter and then another 66 yards in the second quarter for a touchdown. In overtime, they were dinged for 10 crushing points by a reserve non-scholarship quarterback.
They produced one turnover. They should have produced at least three more. Even Strong said his defenders "dropped four or five interceptions, including one in overtime that would have given us the game."
Now Louisville gets the chance to push the reset button by winning at Rutgers Thursday night – and advance to a BCS bowl. Consider it the blessing of the Big East.
"How else would you want to have it?" Daniel Brown asked.