CRAWFORD | Eight thoughts on Louisville football after loss to C - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Eight thoughts on Louisville football after loss to Clemson

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 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville football team lost a golden opportunity to win at Clemson on Saturday. The Cardinals knocked out the Clemson quarterback, and as bad as the Cardinals' offense was, it was still better than anything managed by Clemson, thanks to yet another sterling effort by the Cardinal defense.

But Clemson prevailed 23-17, as U of L failed on four tries to score from the Clemson two late (though one of those was a third-down spike to stop the clock).

Assorted thoughts on what we're seeing from Louisville . . .

I originally had this note toward the bottom, but you know what, it needs to be here at the top. This Louisville defense is really good. Clemson players said as much after the game. When you have this defense, you can win games -- against good teams, even. It means that the job of fixing the offense isn't as difficult as it might be. You don't have to build an engine that will win the Indy 500. You just have to build one that will get you home without sputtering and false-starting four times a game. It can be done with the pieces Petrino has. There's no shame in losing by six at Clemson. The sting comes in the golden opportunity lost. To be one yard away from victory and unable to get that yard? But about this defense -- Louisville had the nation's top-rated defense going into Clemson, and it has the top-rated defense coming out. It is the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, and No. 3 scoring defense. Think about this: In seven games, the Cardinals has given up only nine touchdowns, but four of those were not by opposing offenses. Now, listen to this: the first-team defense has given up only THREE touchdowns all season. One was a short 33-yard drive by Miami after a turnover. Another was a three-play, 15-yard drive after a turnover. The only long score came on a 70-yard TD pass by Murray State. I know, the teams Louisville has beaten aren't known as offensive powers. But Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings say that the Cardinals have played the nation's 56th-toughest schedule to this point. That makes the numbers credible. Penn State is No. 2 in defense, and has played the No. 54 schedule.

There's a lot of "thinking" going on with this offense, and I think that makes for uncertainty and hesitation. It can even lead to drops and things of that nature, as well as, of course, penalties. That's all I can think of to account for the overall struggles of the offense. There's too much on some of these players' plates. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. I also think this may well be the case because . . .

I've talked to a couple of people with ties to the first Petrino tenure here and they say they feel this to be the case also. The delayed tight end drag underneath? I think we've seen it once all season -- against Wake Forest.

"He'd run it 4-6 times a game for huge chunks," one told me. "He'd typically call them deep in their own territory and after turnovers. It made the linebackers think and then he'd run the power running package to the same side. After they got burned, the linebackers always chose how they wanted to die."

The offensive line doesn't appear able to meet the demands of the offense. And inexperienced quarterbacks will shrink the playbook of any coach. I should probably repeat that. Inexperienced quarterbacks will shrink the playbook of any coach. You can only run what the QBs can run. It was the same with Bridgewater. It's the same with most first-year starters. Stefan LeFors was an exception -- which Petrino noted last week.

4). EVEN THE ROUTES WIDEOUTS ARE RUNNING DON'T LOOK THE SAME. If you can't keep your quarterback protected, and the quarterback is having trouble making calls and "seeing" the field the way the coach does, it will change the way you use wide receivers. "The intermediate and deep crossing routes are absent," one close observer of the offense said. Wideout Kai De La Cruz, probably being too candid for his own good, Tweeted after the game that he doesn't understand why he's being used the way he is. Never a good sign, but points to just an overall confusion.

He said this last Monday, and I think it's the case. The two examples in this game of an offensive peg in a defensive hole are pretty small, but might've played big roles, as they were connected to both Clemson touchdowns. First, the coin toss. Petrino always takes the ball. But in this case, the Cardinals went three-and-out on offense, then the special teams broke down and allowed a 72-yard touchdown return. The net result was that the team's strongest unit trailed 7-0 before it ever took the field. The second time was after being backed up deep in their own territory (after the defense again held following a James Quick fumbled punt). Petrino called a pass play on third down that put freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon close to the goal line. Predictably, he was sacked, fumbled, and Clemson recovered in the end zone for its second non-offensive TD of the game. If the only way you can lose the game is to give the other team non-offensive touchdowns, there's no way you put your freshman quarterback near the goal line with a chance to cough the ball up. You run up the middle, get as many yards as you can, punt, and let your defense try to bail you out again.

. Mistakes happen. But this team might well be two James Quick fumbled punt returns away from being undefeated. That's not to put everything on him. There have been dozens of chances that were missed in other areas, and plenty of other mistakes to point out. But at Clemson, that fumbled punt switched field position in this game and helped back the Cards up to give Clemson its second touchdown.

One game ago, I thought Reggie Bonnafon was the quarterback for the rest of the season. Now, all those bets are off. U of L ran 17 plays in the second quarter, and gained 10 net yards. The problem was that quality Clemson defense, discovering that it did not need to respect U of L's passing game, turned off the run. U of L was outgained in the second and third quarters 156-66. Now, it's not that Clemson's offense did any damage in those quarters. But that's a whole lot of time in which Louisville wasn't doing any offense damage of its own. Will Gardner came in and sparked some movement, and may well be the guy going into N.C. State. No matter who the quarterback is, going 1-for-17 on third down is mind-boggling. But with Clemson able to load up against the run, third-and-long is what happens. The problem for Petrino is that he sees what's open. And he's calling plays to take advantage of what's there. But he didn't have the QB Saturday to take advantage of it. So he shifted into the mode of just trying to get as much as he could on first and second down to give himself a manageable third. It still seems to me that the best option for this team is two running backs on the field, keeping open the possibility of a screen game and providing for a lead blocker.

I downgraded my expectations for this team to 8-4 after the DeVante Parker injury before the season. I still feel that's a record they can get to. If the defense stays healthy and doesn't wear down, U of L fans are in for fun games against Notre Dame and Florida State. I don't think they'll be wins, but they should be competitive. The dangerous games for Louisville are against N.C. State this week and at Boston College on Nov. 8 after the FSU game. There's been a lot of talk locally about rival Kentucky being favored in the final game. We'll see how it looks when we get there. A bookmaker WDRB's Rick Bozich spoke with last week says Kentucky isn't likely to be favored in another game all season. The Wildcats look good. But in Sagarin's ratings, the Wildcats have done what they've done this season against a schedule rated No. 136 in the nation. Given that there are only 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, they've gone 5-1 against a schedule that Sagarin rates as a good Football Championship Subdivision schedule. Not my rankings -- but his. As bad as Louisville's offense looked Saturday, it can lose to every team left on its schedule. We'll see what happens next in Petrino's quest to build that offense before determining whom to favor in the season finale.

TALK ABOUT IT: Eric Crawford will host The Early Birds on WKRD-790 AM Monday morning from 7-10 AM.

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