CRAWFORD | Post-snap read: Grim status report after Louisville's loss to Clemson
WDRB's Eric Crawford takes stock after Louisville's loss to Clemson on Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Status report, University of Louisville football, Sunday, September 17, 2017, the day after Clemson dominated the Cardinals 47-21 on their home field.
The sun rose. Louisville still has a Top 20 football team, at least according to Associated Press voters, who dropped the Cards to No. 19. But it doesn’t feel that way.
It feels like Louisville has lost 4 of its past 6 football games, because it has. Rank them how you will, those four losses are the worst Bobby Petrino has suffered at Louisville, either in terms of improbability (Kentucky), ineffectiveness (LSU) or complete subjugation (Houston, Clemson).
Louisville has a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, but can’t seem to consistently fire against better competition.
It has one of the 10 worst passing defenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the fourth worst of any Power 5 program from a statistical standpoint.
Under Petrino, the Cards rank ninth nationally in total offense, and Jackson leads the nation in total offense at 463.7 yards per game, but they are tied for 47th in scoring offense and are tied for 98th in the nation in touchdown percentage in the Red Zone – at 50 percent.
They have given up six sacks this season, and 28 in their past six games. Their best passing performance this season came against the 10th worst passing defense in the FBS.
In four of their last six games, the leading rusher in terms of yards per carry has been a running back. In none of those four games did that running back get more carries than Jackson.
After Saturday’s game, Jackson said, “The season is not over.”
Technically, he’s right. Practically speaking, less so. The Cardinals won’t play another home game that truly matters to its fan base until they face Florida State at home next fall. They do travel to Florida State next month in a game that will have significant meaning if they can take care of business in the conference until then. It’s hard to have any confidence they will, based on what transpired Saturday.
The Cards also will travel to rival Kentucky in November. Kentucky is 3-0. It had an ugly first two weeks. Its win at South Carolina Saturday showed toughness. With a chance to end Florida’s three-decade winning streak and deal itself into contention in the SEC East this weekend, the college football spotlight in this state could be set to make a shift East.
They brought U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino in as the celebrity picker for College GameDay Saturday, and he shared an extended anecdote about coaching against Michael Jordan in explaining why he was picking Louisville.
Seemed a little out of place at the time. By the end of the third quarter, with a good portion of the 55,588 fans in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium heading back to the parking lots with the Cardinals trailing 33-7, it made more sense. Why not talk more basketball?
Yes, this can be a very good season for Louisville. It could still get to a major bowl. But only if it somehow becomes the team it looked like it could become on paper, not the team it actually has been over the past three games.
Otherwise, we’re all just going to watch Lamar Jackson put up big numbers and watch the Louisville defense give up numbers nearly as big.
Louisville and Clemson met in prime time for a second straight season. The game was highly anticipated, after last season’s thriller. But unlike a year ago, only one of the teams was ready for prime time. It’s one of the more disappointing elements of Louisville’s performance. Everything was in place. The crowd – the second largest in PJCS history – was primed. A national TV audience was watching. In the stands, it was a blackout. On the field, there was a power outage.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant started his first true road game and responded to the challenge by completing his first four passes, for 53 yards, leading an early scoring drive to put the Tigers on the board first.
Louisville’s junior Heisman Trophy winner missed on each of his first four passes and said afterward, “I think I was too excited.”
That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Louisville shouldn’t be casting about for rhythm in the running game, albeit against one of the nation’s better defenses, after all this time. One game after rushing for 149 yards, Malik Williams got six carries – and averaged 5.8 yards on those. (He also caught three passes, at 12 yards per catch.)
Clemson’s Bryant was throwing to wide-open targets in the middle of Louisville zone coverage, or finding open receivers from blown coverages. All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander was a big loss. But this isn’t all on that injury. The Cards have some experience in the secondary, and have experience, if not depth, up front.
The stats say they’re getting some pressure on the quarterback. They’re tied for 10th in the nation in sacks. The eye test isn’t quite as definitive. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 66.4 percent of their passes. Only 16 teams are allowing a higher completion percentage.
Understand, there is no shame in losing to Clemson. The Tigers are very good. They’ve built a long time toward what they have now. But for Louisville to be dominated at home, on that stage, leaves you with questions, and they are questions that can’t be answered against Kent State or Murray State.
And when you consider Louisville’s past six games, there’s no guarantee, if you’re a Louisville fan, that you’re going to like the answers going forward.
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