CRAWFORD | Thoughts on Louisville's 77-16 loss at Clemson
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The only other time a University of Louisville football team gave up 77 points in a football game, it had an excuse.
The score was actually 105-0, and the opponent was Murray State Teachers College on Oct. 8, 1932. (Apparently, they don’t make teachers like they used to. Sorry to you teachers out there. But also, that might not be a bad thing!) Louisville was outgained 725 to minus-14, according to The Courier-Journal.
The excuse was that the university was actively seeking to de-emphasize athletics to bolster its academic standing. The president at the time, Raymond Kent, is now the namesake of the university’s School of Social Work. Funding for athletics, for athletic scholarships, for coaches’ salaries, all of it was slashed.
The football program would take until after World War II, and the arrival of Frank Camp as coach, to recover. In the midst of it, the football team would lose 24 straight at one point, and had to recruit students from the Playhouse Theater (still standing at Cardinal Boulevard and Third Street) to round out the rosters.
It was a different time. A dollar would buy you two broadcloth men’s shirts, a sport coat or 10 pairs of socks at Bacons and 15 cents would get you into a weekday matinee of Edward G. Robinson in “Tiger Shark” -- He taught her to love and she learned too well! -- at the Alamo Theater on Fourth Street.
An ad in that day’s newspaper for Stewart’s Department Store offered shoppers a chance to meet U of L students in various departments around the store, with women from the university “showing the practical training they received there.” Training in such things, and I quote, as, selecting suitable clothing for college “girls,” modeling clothes, selecting the proper menu for the tea room, laying out and cutting materials for patterns, cutting patterns, preparing food and choosing toys suitable for children of various ages.
Come to think of it, they don’t make university academics like they used to, either. Also not a bad thing.
I bring this up because the U of L team that lost to Clemson 77-16 on Saturday is the beneficiary of a head coach who makes $4 million, a recruiting budget well in excess of a half-million dollars, a $1.2 million travel budget, equipment expenses of nearly $900,000, more than $700,000 in player meals (not related to travel). In all, more than $25 million in operating expenses. And that’s not to mention a stadium which has cost around $200 million, including expansion, but not including practice fields, and an indoor practice facility.
This, so that Clemson could break its own school record with 11.6 yards per play against the Cardinals (beating a record 11.2 yards per play from a game in 1903, when a guy named John Heisman -- yes, the guy the trophy was named after -- was coaching the Tigers).
That’s averaging a first down every time the ball is snapped, for those scoring at home.
It’s a game Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will never forget because his son, who usually holds for extra points, scored his first touchdown.
Now, look. I don’t think Louisville players had a team meeting before the game and decided, “Let’s go out and embarrass ourselves and our coaches on national television. Let’s give up 77.” I just don’t think that happened.
I do think that the game wouldn’t have looked much different if they *had* held such a meeting and had that discussion.
And I don't want to lose sight that, no matter, what, football for these players -- in an ideal university setting -- is a secondary goal. They're in school to earn degrees, to learn, to train for professions, to become people who will make a difference in the world. All those things are still happening for many of these players, win or lose.
But in this high-stakes, big money game of Power 5 football, I have to say, this team played like a team that wants different coaches.
On the game’s third carry, Clemson running back Tavien Feaster sprinted through the line and off on a 70-yard touchdown run, and I really counted only four Louisville players trying to give chase – C.J. Avery, Cornelius Sturghill, Chandler Jones and Amonte Caban – and I mention them not to embarrass them, but to recognize the effort, because it’s not easy to make that effort when everything around you seems to be falling down. When that kind of stuff starts to happen, you wonder where the breakdown really is.
So, what’s my purpose in writing this, other than to note the historic nature of the loss in the face of the resources committed to the enterprise?
A couple of things. You lose like that – even against a team as good as Clemson – it’s more than “a bad season.” It’s a bad response to a bad season.
Howard Schnellenberger came here to build football and went through some lopsided losses – though none as bad as that one. But even amid those, nobody felt like effort wasn’t being made. He got outmanned many times. His teams didn’t get outworked.
Second, the future of Bobby Petrino as coach at Louisville is much in the news right now. Petrino was asked last week if he would bring himself back as coach, given all that has transpired this season, and he said he would, based on all he has accomplished at the school. He mentioned being 7-1 in the ACC just two years ago.
And he’s right. But after building that 7-1 record, his team finished the season 0-3 with the Heisman winning quarterback. He’s 10-15 overall since then. He’s 6-15 against Power 5 conference schools. He’s 0-8 against ranked teams, with an average margin of defeat of 25.5 points.
This isn’t just a “bad season.” It’s been deteriorating since the end of the 2016 season, and has never really gotten back up on plane, despite the greatness of Lamar Jackson. Louisville has given up 50 points or more four times this season, a first in the history of the program, a program whose history is not completely stellar.
Before Petrino coaches another season, if I’m athletic director, I’d need to know and feel convinced of two things: What exactly has happened? And how do you propose to fix it?
To turn this around, an athletic director and coach need to be completely in step. They need to be brutally frank and open in their understanding of matters and they need to be on the same page about how to proceed.
When that Louisville team back in 1932 was struggling, having just lost 105-0, the headline in the newspaper noted that it had given up 203 points in three games. This Louisville team has given up 133 in its past two and is heading into a Friday night game at No. 22 Syracuse, which averages better than 43 points per game.
For things to be this bad is one thing. For them to be this bad with little sign of improvement is another entirely.
Everybody involved deserves a better understanding of what has happened, and a better approach moving forward. The players most of all.
One of the best little motivational books I’ve read lately is “Make Your Bed,” by Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven. He describes a critical moment in SEAL training, in which the candidates are up to their necks in mud, are cold, have been training and up all night. They’re just standing there, in a mud pit, with their superiors taunting them on the shore, telling them to give up and they can come and get warm and eat. One man starts to wade out of the mud. Then another, with a weak, raspy voice, begins to sing. It’s a raucous, off-color song that the trainees sang. But as he did that, another man joined, and another, until the whole group was singing, including the man who was about to give up.
Sometimes, one voice can make a difference, can change a cold, muddy tired collection of trainees into a united, defiant group of SEALs.
If that kind of voice exists in Louisville’s locker room, now would be a good time for it.
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