CRAWFORD | Five thoughts on the state of Louisville football and - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five thoughts on the state of Louisville football and where it goes now

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LOUISVILLE. Ky. (WDRB) — Welcome, University of Louisville football fan, to the Worst Case Scenario, start of season edition.

Your program hasn’t been here for a while, probably not since 2009.

It has been a difficult 13 days. That’s right, Louisville's season was only 13 days old when it dropped to 0-3. Thirteen days, three losses. That’s as many losses as the program suffered in the 2012 and 2013 seasons combined.

So it’s understandable if there’s some angst and if people are uneasy. But it’s also not the time for rash reaction.

Especially in light of the program’s recent success, and also in light of expectations some had for the program this season, 0-3 is bad. It's never good. I’m here to tell you it probably looks worse than it is in some ways — and looks every bit as bad as it is in others.

A few thoughts on where the program stands, and why, and where it is going:

1). SCHEDULING. If you open the season against Hyphen State and Nowhere Tech, nobody sees these issues that now are fodder for talk radio all day. Bobby Petrino and Tom Jurich haven’t backed away from playing a challenging non-conference schedule. Fans love the idea. But you can’t beat those guys over the head with it if you lose some games.

In its past four games, Louisville has played three ranked teams. This is where both fans and administration wanted this program to be, in terms of competition. It’s been pretty competitive in two of those three, and had a chance to win the game it just lost to Clemson. But you have a young team, you have early season games, you have Top 25 caliber opponents. Louisville fans know enough football to know that’s a dangerous equation sometimes.

And not just competition, but compressed scheduling, in terms of Thursday’s loss to Clemson. Louisville lost a game to Houston it probably shouldn’t have lost (more on that in a bit), then had to turn around and immediately jump on the task of Clemson. It’s a tough thing. But it’s a kind of “welcome to the big-time” moment that the program is going to have to endure every once in a while.

I keep hearing things like “worst start since 1984” or “we’re back to Steve Kragthorpe or Ron Cooper.” Statistically, the worst start is what it is. But Louisville has never played these kinds of teams to open a season. And the program has not been where it is now. There’s a big difference in a young team losing at home to Clemson by three with a chance to tie when a field goal drifts wide and one losing at by three at home to Syracuse as a 37-point favorite with a 20-game home winning streak. I got a reminder from one fan Thursday night, “Kragthorpe never started 0-3.” No, he didn't. But if he’d played these three games, he would have.

2). HOUSTON. We hear all the time, it’s not the losses to ranked teams that get you, it’s the other losses. This loss was proof. The breakdown was total. You had systems failure on offense (turnovers and poor production), defense (twice losing the lead in the fourth quarter) and special teams (kickoff returned for a touchdown). Of the three games the Cardinals have played this year, this one threw up the most warning flags, particularly when you combine it with word from some of the players that the team didn’t focus completely during the week of practice that followed.

3). OFFENSE. Petrino had no choice but to come out and say it, “We’re just not very good right now on offense.” More than that, Petrino and his players seem unsure of who they want to be on offense. They can be effective with freshman Lamar Jackson, if he’s making good decisions, and an attack that is built around the running game. Kyle Bolin and the offense weren’t effective for long stretches of Thursday’s game, but he did hit some long passes. The offensive line has played three games, and been overmatched in three games. 

After three games, Louisville ranks 111th in the FBS in rushing offense, 102nd in total offense and 92nd in scoring. Only five teams in the nation are giving up more sacks per game. The Cardinals have played good defenses in Clemson and Auburn. 

What you can't always see on first glance is how often the play call was good, but the quarterback didn't see the open receiver. Petrino has talked about the little breakdowns. The run where a single block is missed. But that's as much a part of the coaching job as anything, and Petrino understands that. And the lack of an emerging identity is of most concern.

4). DEFENSE. The Cardinals rank 101st in FBS in third-down conversion percentage allowed, 43.5 percent. They rank 102nd in rushing defense, 206 yards per game. It’s six takeaways (all interceptions) place it among the nation’s leaders. But overall, the poor tackling and inability to get off the field on third down has proved disastrous now in two losses. Its young defense has delivered second-half leads against both Houston and Clemson, but the offense never got the ball with a lead to build on.

5). SO, WHERE DO THINGS GO FROM HERE? Here’s the thing. The losses are on the scoreboard, and the price has been paid. If I were coach, that would probably be my message. You put in the work to get ready for those games. You competed. You did some things well, you made some mistakes. You learned some painful lessons. The question facing this team now is whether it will take advantage of its tough early road to accept those lessons, put them to use and get better moving forward, or become discouraged and allow the slide to continue. This is a young team so it’s hard to predict how it will react. Petrino has never lost four games in a row as a college coach so we don’t know how he’ll operate. He conceded Thursday night, this is a real challenge.

We do know the schedule eases up. It was always front-loaded this season. But what we’ve learned from watching this team is that no victory is a guarantee. I heard a radio host today talking as if playing Samford is a bye week. Samford averages better than 600 yards per game. If Louisville doesn’t show up, it’ll be Auburn-Jacksonville State all over again.

For all of this team’s problems, is has lost to three teams (who are a combined 7-0, two of them nationally ranked) by 4.3 points per game. Even at 0-3, that’s not panic button stuff.

Big-time programs regroup, learn, accept the lessons of losing and get better. Those who haven’t gotten there yet become discouraged and don’t improve. Over the next several weeks, we’ll learn where this program is.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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