BOZICH | Louisville eliminates itself from playoff chase with Houston sleepwalk
On a night when Louisville was out-played, out-schemed, out-motivated and outmaneuvered, the Cards lost to Houston and fell out of contention for the four-team national playoff.
HOUSTON — Fumble on the opening kickoff. Penalty after penalty after penalty. Fumble inside the 40 yard line. Penalty after penalty. Fumble by Lamar Jackson.
Burned by a fake punt. Burned by a halfback pass. Burned by a Houston defense that kept coming and coming and coming.
Offensive line that bent and broke. Ask Jackson. The U of L quarterback was sacked 11 times on a night that was the first prolonged burp on his Heisman Trophy resume. A normal quarterback would have been sacked four or five more times. The final Jackson sack snapshot was an intentional grounding in the end zone call that resulted in a safety for Houston's 35th and 36th points. For the first time this season the Cardinals failed to generate 400 yards, tapping out at 312, 50 fewer than Houston.
Teammates screaming at teammates as well as at assistant coaches with guys like Jackson stepping in to stop the nonsense. It was not a pretty sight -- and that was merely the first half.
There were other things that the University of Louisville football team misplayed in the Cardinals' 36-10 loss to Houston at TDECU Stadium Thursday on a night when they trailed 31-0 at halftime. Injuries? There were some of those, too. Receiver Jamari Staples and defensive lineman James Hearns left in the first half and did not return.
"I think that we blew it," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said when asked to assess his team's playoff outlook. "We had an opportunity sitting there."
"There's not much to say," defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown said. "We didn't come ready to play ... It hurts."
Consider the Cards outplayed, out-motivated and outmaneuvered. It was as poorly as they have played this season -- or in the 35 games Bobby Petrino has coached since returning for the 2014 season. Petrino has coached 87 games at Louisville. Only once has one of his teams scored fewer points. That was 7 against Memphis on Nov. 15, 2003.
Jackson finished with one touchdown pass, a 12-yard strike to Cole Hikutini in the third quarter. His offensive line betrayed him as much as it has all season. Somebody asked Jackson if he thought his lead in the Heisman Trophy race would take a major hit.
"I wasn't focused on that," he said. "I was focused on winning."
The Cards tumbled hard, all the way to 9-2 and officially out of the discussion for the College Football Playoff. Instead of moving from fifth to fourth, they'll be tracking toward seventh or eighth -- likely bound for the Orange Bowl with a season finale against Kentucky to go, though they still have only one ACC loss.
"We kept beating ourselves," Jackson said. "A lot of miscues ... It was bad."
"I'm sure a lot of people were waiting for this moment," said halfback Brandon Radcliff, who finished with 19 yards and lost one of U of L's three fumbles for the second consecutive week.
The social media blowback was swift and harsh.
"The players on this team were more busy Tweeting their displeasure with the committee than they were focused on this game," ESPN analyst Danny Kannell said at halftime.
This was worse than last week when Louisville trailed Wake Forest, 12-3, after 30 minutes before rallying to win by a misleading 44-12. Much worse.
This was a team without focus (penalties) or strategic answers (burned by two trick plays).
This was worse than the 28-10 halftime hole at Clemson.
This was different. This was equal opportunity misplays by the offense, defense and special teams. The Cards' didn't play as if they were upset about their No. 5 ranking. They played as if the playoffs were hopeless. Now they are.
It started on the game’s first play. Houston won the toss, but chose to kick. The Cougars didn’t know that Louisville’s return guy, Malik Williams, would bounce off teammate Seth Dawkins and fumble the ball on the U of L 13.
But that’s what happened.
That lead to a 13-yard scoring pass from Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to Duke Catalon on Houston’s first snap.
Louisville trailed, 7-0, after 11 seconds. That was as close as Bobby Petrino’s team would be in the first half.
It wasn't long before Louisville receivers were jawing at each other on the sidelines, prompting assistant coach Lonnie Galloway and Jackson to separate the teammates. Brown and Jackson said it was no big deal. Just brothers fussing at each other. It wasn't a good look.
Credit seven first-half Louisville penalties, several on false starts. The Cards finished with 15 penalties for 114 yards. Houston earned one flag, for five.
Credit an offense line that left Jackson to run for self-preservation as often as he was running for yardage. He ran for 116 yards, but gave back 83 of them on sacks.
Credit Houston coach Tom Herman with tricking the U of L defense twice — once with a fake punt that led to a Ward touchdown pass and again on a lateral that led to a halfback pass for 50 yards for a touchdown.
That made it 31-0. The Cards played better in the second half. But better wasn't good enough. Not on this night.
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