LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the wake of his team’s 45-10 loss to No. 3 Clemson on Saturday, University of Louisville coach Scott Satterfield preached two things to his players: Optimism and realism.
Given the opportunities it had in the game, the score should have been closer. More on that in a minute. Satterfield had an immediate message for his players in the locker room after the game – bounce back in a hurry.
“I told our guys in the locker room, that’s life,” Satterfield said. “Life’s going to throw a lot of things at you. You’re going to have some adversity. This was a big bump in the road today. But you can’t put your head down. You can’t start pointing fingers. What you’ve got to do is put your big boy pants on and come back to work tomorrow. Let’s go, let’s get this thing going. Let’s correct our mistakes and then let’s put our focus on Virginia. And that’s what it’s got to be.”
These are players who know adversity. All you have to do is roll the tape from last season to see it. And if they know anything about adversity, it’s that it can snowball on you. Saturday’s game was another example.
And yet, even in this lopsided loss, Louisville’s players and coaches can look back and see multiple golden opportunities. Games – and if you want to go with Satterfield’s own comparison, life itself – present chances here and there, and if you miss those moments, you likely miss your opportunity.
Louisville picked off Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence twice in the first quarter. It drove 34 yards in six plays, to the Clemson 41, on its first drive, then saw Clemson win a jump ball on a pass to Tutu Atwell in the end zone.
Louisville lost a fumble in the first quarter, and when Clemson muffed a punt at its own 8 and the ball rolled into the end zone midway through the quarter, couldn’t find a way to pounce on it for a touchdown, and the Tigers instead recovered for a touchback.
Midway through the second quarter, Evan Conley hit Atwell right in the hands on a deep route, but Atwell couldn’t come up with a reception that had touchdown written all over it.
When you play a team of Clemson’s caliber and get those kinds of chances, you have to cash in. When you don’t, as Louisville found out Saturday, eventually you’re going to be the one paying.
“We’ve been hitting a lot of big plays throughout the season this year, and had some opportunities in this game, did not convert on them and you’ve got to, when you play a team like Clemson,” Satterfield said. “You’re not going to have so many opportunities and you’ve got to make the most of those. And we were not able to do that. . . . Who knows what would have happened in the second half, but we didn’t make enough plays (early). Whether you call them mistakes or not making the play, some of those were not making the right read, whether the throw is off or the catch. Those are the kinds of plays you’ve got to be able to make..”
Despite all that, Louisville still trailed only 10-3 when it got the ball with 2:25 left until the half. Handle that drive right, and at worst you’re going into the half down by a touchdown.
Instead, after completing a pass to start the drive, it drew a holding call, stopping the clock, and after that instead of keeping the ball on the ground to force Clemson to burn its remaining two timeouts, it threw an incomplete pass to stop the clock again, then Clemson called a timeout after a sack. Louisville wound up punting the ball back to Clemson with 1:05 left in the half, using only 1:20 of clock time, and the Tigers drove to a touchdown that made it 17-3 at half.
A year ago, Louisville would long since have let go of the rope. But in this game, the Cardinal defense again held Clemson to open the second half, but Louisville could not muster anything offensively, and the Tigers finally began to pull away.
“Can you hold them down the whole game? That’s hard,” Satterfield said. “I think just over a period of time, their talent ends up taking over and when it takes over it’s hard to stop them. So that’s why early in the game when you have opportunities to make plays you have to make those plays, and if you don’t, the next thing you know you look up and you are down 21. It’s hard at that point because, they are more talented than us. I mean, period. I think we all know that. And so going back to those plays early on it’s hard. It just makes it extremely difficult at that point in time. Is it wearing us down? I don’t know if it’s that, I just think we did not make the plays when we needed to early in the game to stay in the game. So now, they call the game different. Their coaches call the game different, we call them different. You know you have a different strategy if you are up. You can take more chances on their part defensively and offensively. So I think just their talent eventually overtook the game.”
Credit Louisville for generating chances. It got big plays from former walk-ons, including an interception by Louisville native Jack Fagot – the first of his career. The Cardinals started two former walk-ons on offense, tight end Marshawn Ford and right tackle Tyler Haycraft. Talent matters. Clemson was rotating players in off the sideline who would start at Louisville.
And yet the Cardinals still had their chances. The challenge for Satterfield and his staff is for them to take advantage of those chances. So far this season, they’ve done a pretty good job of that. On Saturday, they didn’t.
“We left too much on the field,” Conley said after the game.
Over time, the goal is to leave less and less. Virginia appeared to bounce back strong from recent struggles to throttle Duke on Saturday. The Cavaliers visit Louisville on Saturday. Louisville could lose all five of its remaining games, but it also could win any of them. The difference likely will be whether they can seize the kinds of chances they failed to capitalize on Saturday.
“We’re a work in progress. I’ve been saying that all year,” Satterfield said. “. . . I don’t think we’ll ever be where I want to be. We’re always going to strive to be better. Are we better now than we were when we first started? I think so. I certainly think we are. We’ve got to continue to get better each and every week. We have a great opportunity next week. We host Virginia here. That’s a huge game for us. So, we’ve got to have a great practice tomorrow. . . . Today we had a lot of adversity. So, how are we going come back from that? I think that’s the true measure of a team. So we’ll see how we bounce back (Sunday) at practice. Are we coming in here ready to go, with our heads up, looking to see how we can improve? If we do that, then we’ll be fine. And that’s got to be our mindset.”
Satterfield had at least one immediate believer in his message on Saturday -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
"Cannot say enough about coach Satterfield, his staff, and what they are doing here," he said. "Very easy to see on tape the fight that this team is going to have, so I give them a lot of credit. They really played us tough. We knew we were going to have to eventually knock them out because they were not going to give up. We saw that in all of the games that they played and that’s what happened. But we were able to take the game over."
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