BOZICH: Louisville football has no easy answers to tough questions
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The details from Wake Forest’s punishing 56-35 victory over Louisville at Cardinal Stadium Saturday have been noted.
Another wall-to-wall defensive surrender of nearly 600 yards. An offense that put up big yardage numbers, but no points in the fourth quarter when points were essential. Losing the turnover battle. You know the list. You’re tired of the list.
You’re ready to forget game details and proceed to the three questions that matter for this sagging 2-6 team:
1.) Why is this team this inept, operating at least three wins less than expectations?
2.) Is there a disconnect between coaches and players?
3.) Can U of L convince a substantial number of fans to buy into a sixth season of Bobby Petrino, whose record over the last 24 games is 10-14?
Those are questions U of L athletic director Vince Tyra will have to study and then answer when this relentlessly miserable season finally ends in four weeks.
I could shuffle the datelines and statistics from columns I wrote after the Virginia and Georgia Tech debacles to outline most of what happened against the Demon Deacons in half-full/half-empty (your call) Cardinal Stadium Saturday.
No reason to re-write a game column when these are the items that matter:
How does Tyra solve this competitive and financial Rubik’s Cube? What’’s the path back to the just-below-Clemson level of the Atlantic Coast Conference?
Consider this season a blip and divert the pressure to the marketing department to craft a plan to sell 2019 season tickets?
Roll the dice that Notre Dame fans will be so gaga to see the Irish in the season opener at Cardinal Stadium that they’ll buy a fistful of season tickets to make certain they can see the beloved Irish? Sell a few more season plans that way to Clemson people, too?
If you saw the crowd shots from the Wake Forest game, you know it’s going to be a challenging sales pitch to people who stayed away Saturday. Although the school announced a crowd of 49,000, there was no pre-game traffic backup driving south on Floyd Street an hour before the game.
I’d put the number at closer to 29,000 — to watch a team that ranks last in the ACC in total offense and next-to-last in total defense after Saturday’s games.
Have a conversation with Petrino that results in a king-sized shakeup of his coaching staff, changes that are needed to plug the gaps from the last two seasons? Of Louisville’s last 14 defeats, 10 have been by 10 or more points and seven have been by at least 20 points.
Sounds good. But the record shows Petrino has whiffed twice while trying to replace Todd Grantham at defensive coordinator.
What talented assistants with other options will sign up to work for a coach on the hot seat? Will fans get excited about 2019 because of new position coaches?
A call like that is above my pay grade. I remember the things people once said about Rich Brooks. Or Mark Stoops. How did that turn out?
But I know enough basic finance that unless Megyn Kelly, Charlie Weis and Tom Jurich kick in some spare buyout cash, the hands of any administrator writing a farewell check of around $14 million would wobble.
Do your research. Make your arguments. There are four more weeks of this. Everybody has time to defend his or her position. It’s a complicated call but an inevitable discussion when you review the videos of how this team has played.
The Cardinals figure to be 2-10 on the evening of Nov. 24. Their worst season in more than two decades will likely be punctuated by a home loss to a Kentucky team currently adored as college football’s Cinderella.
A team that is three touchdowns worse than Wake Forest at home is a minor threat against Clemson (8-0), Syracuse (6-2), North Carolina State (5-2) or Kentucky (7-1).
A 37-point gap between Louisville and Alabama is understandable. Losing to Virginia, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest by an average of 24.5 points is not.
Getting beat by Alabama in Orlando is one thing. Getting owned by Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in your home stadium is tough to dismiss with happy talk.
That is what makes you wonder what’s going on here. That is what is convincing fans to stay away.
I’m not arguing this should be a 9-3 team. I pegged the Cardinals at 7-5 before the season because of the loss of Lamar Jackson as well as so many important defensive departures.
But the Cardinals are on a fast track to 2-10 and have lost five straight. The record shows that 2-10 would be worse than anything posted by Steve Kragthorpe, whose bottom-out season was 4-8. You remember how intensely people loved him.
It would be Louisville’s worse full-season performance since 1997 when Ron Cooper defeated only Illinois over 11 games in his third and final season.
The losing streak is Louisville’s longest since the Cardinals lost five straight in Kragthorpe’s 2008 season. A loss at Clemson next weekend will deliver Louisville’s longest losing streak since the 10-game skid that stretched over the final eight games of Cooper and the first two of John L. Smith in 1997-98.
What is the path back from that?
The Louisville fan base has four weeks to fuss about it. They will. Vince Tyra also has four weeks to figure it out. He must.
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