BOZICH | How to explain Louisville's football slide from No. 5 to No. ?
Only 10 days ago Louisville was ranked fifth nationally and still angling for the College Football Playoffs. Now the Cardinals have lost two straight and wondering what has gone wrong.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There’s no reason to get Kirk Herbstreit, Nick Saban or even Daffy Duck on the line to explain what happened to the University of Louisville football team twice in the last nine days.
You can’t let opposing quarterbacks frolic like Jameis Winston.
You can’t hand over the football like pieces of pumpkin pie and expect to beat Houston, Kentucky or the Mid-City Mall Warriors.
You can’t stop wondering why the Cardinals have not found or developed a field-goal kicker who can make clutch kicks from 47 yards with an entire stadium howling.
Houston 36, Louisville 10.
Kentucky 41, Louisville 38.
That’s how you make a 9-3 season feel like 3-9. That’s the way you get people wondering what happened to the team that won its first four by an average of 41 points and had ESPN’s College GameDay hyperventilating.
That’s how you create a scenario where you slide from No. 5 to No. ? faster than the Bronze parking lot empties on to Floyd Street.
“You know sometimes in this game you find ways to win games and sometimes you find ways to lose games,” U of L coach Bobby Petrino said.
“I certainly feel like we found a way to lose that game.”
Ditto. I certainly do, too.
Remember when Louisville’s biggest issue was not getting that first down against Clemson? Those were the days.
The last two games have been an equal opportunity meltdown. (I won’t dive back into Virginia or the first three quarters of Wake Forest, but a student of literature might call those games foreshadowing.)
Two weeks ago it was reasonable to ask if the Cardinals could sneak past Washington or Michigan into the four-team College Football Playoff. Today it’s reasonable to ask how much gusto this team has in reserve to win a bowl game that will be a slot or two below the Orange Bowl that already seemed like a disappointment.
Petrino never solved this turnover thing, not with U of L losing the ball four times against UK. Before Saturday’s game Louisville had lost the football 27 times — 20 on fumbles and seven on interceptions.
Only four of 128 FBS teams had thrown or handed the ball away more — Southern Miss, Purdue, Kansas and Bowling Green. That’s not like being grouped with Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington.
Bowling Green is 4-8. Kansas finished 2-10. Purdue fired its coach in the middle of a 3-9 season. Southern Miss somehow split 12 games.
Losing is what is supposed to happen to a team when it handles the ball as if its coated with silicon spray. No matter how many times Petrino preached ball security his players kept elevating his blood pressure.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw three interceptions and lost a fumble while eagerly (but dangerously) fighting for extra yards when Louisville might have been able to burn the clock and win with a field goal. Jackson will learn from this. He might become more relaxed if U of L upgrades its field-goal kicking.
But don’t dwell on Jackson. The quarterback has given the Cardinals more energy than heartburn this season. Much more. No Jackson, no nine-win season.
It’s the defense, the one that was supposed to feature at least four picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, that failed spectacularly against Houston and Kentucky.
Todd Grantham’s defense watched UK quarterback Stephen Johnson throw for 338 yards, more than double his per game average. The U of L defense made Johnson look like one of Jackson’s challengers for the Heisman Trophy, not a guy with the eighth best passer rating in the Southeastern Conference.
How many plays did it take Johnson to ease into a comfort zone?
He opened the game with a 75-yard strike to Garrett Johnson, Johnson’s longest completion of the season.
It was a nice throw — against dismal coverage.
“They pride themselves on running the ball,” Louisville linebacker Stacy Thomas said. “They’re going to run the ball, run the ball, then try to take their shot. We expected a shot downfield, we just have to do better on it.”
In case you thought that was a fluke, Johnson hit Johnson with another 63-yard scoring strike late in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, on UK’s final drive, Johnson’s 29-yard pass to Jeff Badet followed by his 15-yard scramble set up the game-winning 47-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis.
Consider that a late-season trend.
In Louisville’s first 10 games, one quarterback threw for 300 yards. That was Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. No embarrassment in that.
In the last two games, Houston and Kentucky punished Louisville by completing 43 of 73 throws for 650 yards and six touchdowns and one interception.
Quarterback sacks delivered by Louisville’s formidable front seven and Grantham’s fancy blitz packages?
Tackles made against Kentucky by DeAngelo Brown and Devonte Fields, the two alleged forces and future NFL stars on the Cardinals' front seven?
One -- assisted -- each.
No wonder Kentucky rang up 581 yards. Consider that 74 more yards than Clemson gained on the Cards, a total that had been the season high.
Playoff chances? Going. Orange Bowl opportunity? Going. Five-game winning streak against Kentucky? Gone.
“I feel the same way that all my other brothers feel,” said Louisville safety Chucky Williams. “We’re pi$#@, we’re mad.
“But I mean, it is what it is and we can’t just dwell on that and we still have a bowl game so right now we’re just moving on to the next task at hand and getting ready for this bowl game.”
“We just didn’t go out and play our best today,” Thomas said. “I don’t have (an) explanation.”
I don’t believe anybody does.
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