BOZICH | Louisville's Season of Awful a defensive nightmare at Clemson
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — At least Clemson didn’t score 80.
Close — Clemson 77, Louisville 16.
But not 80.
It was still enough to drop the Cards' full-season points allowed average to 40.8 points per game, making Louisville one of only six FBS programs allowing 40 or more per game -- with high-scoring Syracuse next on the schedule.
They're 128th -- third worst -- in rushing yards allowed at more than 277 per game.
"Yeah, we couldn't stop them," said U of L coach Bobby Petrino told Jody Demling on his post-game radio show. "They've got really good players ... Obviously we're not very good right now."
Until this season, you needed Woodward and Bernstein to determine the last time the University of Louisville football team lost a game by more than 30 points.
That was two coaches, two conferences and nine seasons ago — a 41-10 burp against Cincinnati on Oct. 24, 2009.
You know where this discussion is going because you know where U of L went Saturday — to Death Valley in western South Carolina. The Cardinals played a second-ranked, unbeaten Clemson team that expects to play for the national title.
In the Cards’ Season of Awful, Petrino’s team delivered another video to delete without viewing, falling behind 14-0 before you had time to check Petrino’s spot at CoachingHotSeat. com. (Ranked 7th Sunday morning.)
Mark it down as the most points allowed by a Louisville team since Murray State hung 105 on the Cardinals in 1932 -- as well as the most point Clemson scored since 1982.
Mark it down as Louisville’s third loss by 30 or more and sixth loss by 18 more. Officially, it was Louisville’s seventh loss in nine games, confirmation the Cardinals will not participate in a bowl game for the first time since 2009, Steve Kragthorpe’s final season. Petrino's team has been relentlessly non-competitive.
"That's a really good football team," Petrino said "When you look at their team, it's good ... their runners were more physical than our tacklers."
This was worse than Alabama, worse than Georgia Tech, worse than Wake Forest. Worse than anything I can remember from the Louisville football games I have covered or observed -- and I was there for a 65-6 smackdown by Southern Miss early in the Howard Schnellenberger regime.
ESPN commentators questioned the effort of the Louisville defenders — and the criticism was justified after the network showed video of guys jogging and attempting soft arm tackles.
This was so bad that Clemson celebrated touchdowns scored by defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and another by Will Swinney, the son of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
Three Clemson players ran for more than 100 yards -- and none of the three had more than eight carries. Clemson ran for 492 yards, averaging more than 13 yards per carry.
"I think one of the neatest things is 10 different guys scored touchdowns," said Swinney. "That's pretty amazing."
Then there was this: With Louisville trailing 49-3 in the third quarter, Cardinals’ defensive back Marlon Character delivered a blow with his helmet with covering a punt — and Character celebrated as if he had just won the Super Bowl.
He had not won anything. Character was assessed a 15-yard penalty for targeting, drawing a game ejection.
The Cardinals earned another flag on their next punt — a 15-yard personal foul on Maurice Burkley.
Looking for another marker of how significantly Louisville has stepped backwards this season?
Louisville’s combined margin of defeat in its previous four games against Clemson was only 41 points — and ESPN’s College GameDay brought its crew to town to preview the game only 14 months ago. Clemson was No. 1 in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but Louisville was certainly in discussion for 1A. Now the Cards are 0-6 in league play.
Game details are largely insignificant. But here are a few. Louisville won the toss but chose to play defense. Clemson rolled 75 yards in four plays in 75 seconds for the Tigers’ first touchdown.
Louisville gained nothing on three plays on its first offensive series. Tavien Foster ran 70 yards for a touchdown on the Tigers’ first snap.
Louisville's most encouraging moments were a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Hassan Hall and a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Malik Cunningham in the fourth quarter.
Any other questions?
Not really. Louisville plays its final road game at Syracuse Friday night. Then the Cardinals return to Cardinal Stadium for games with North Carolina State and Kentucky.
It’s a fast track to 2-10, which would be the Cardinals’ worst season since they lost 10 of 11 in 1997, the final year of Ron Cooper.
In Louisville’s Season of Awful, this was the worst — so far.
"We've just got to stick together as a team," Petrino said.
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