It rained. And it rained. And it kept raining. The Louisville Cardinal football team literally had to scrap its game plan in a series that is well-known to have weird happenings, may have had its strangest settings due to a constant deluge of rain. The game had an announced attendance of 23,492, but many of those either elected to stay dry underneath or to leave. The few that remained were treated with another classic in the Louisville vs. Southern Miss series that never seems to disappoint regardless of roster disparity. As always, it was a throw out the records affair. Still the Cards win is the 6th in a row against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles with the last 3 games being decided by a total of 9 points (3 points per game).
Before I get to the game itself. I spent the week doing a tour of Florida following Louisville’s road game in Miami vs. Florida International, slowly working my way towards the panhandle and eventually Hattiesburg. In the FIU game, the campus of Florida International was basically flooded out. I spent the week in bright sunshine, and then gameday a full day of constant downpour in Hattiesburg. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s just the way this football team is going to stay under the radar, but it sure makes things interesting.
The press box at Southern Miss was a major upgrade compared to Florida International’s, but the constant rain left the Golden Eagles’ press area plagued with leaks. Above my work area I actually had to construct a pyramid of cups to catch the water. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll see it. But alas, on to the game:
The weather played a role throughout the game. So to ignore it would just be silly. But Southern Miss won the toss, elected to defer and the Cards came out looking like a team ready to handle its business during a period of light rain to begin the game. The opening drive took just 7 plays as Teddy Bridgewater connected with his long lost target DeVante Parker for 29-yards on a beautiful play-action post. As beautiful as the TD pass was, the snap and hold lacked the same beauty as it was botched and the Cards would lead just 6-0.
The weather began its turn for the worse almost immediately after the Parker/Bridgewater TD. Puddles began forming in spots and it became clear that the rain was not going to slow down, and that it was clearly affecting the game. On Southern Miss’ 3rd play from scrimmage Calvin Pryor jarred the ball loose from Desmond Johnson to give the Cards the ball in scoring position at the Southern Miss 28 yard-line. But the Cards would move themselves backwards with penalties and allowing plays behind the line of scrimmage and would eventually punt and the Golden Eagles promptly returned the favor following a 3 AND OUT.
However, the game began to get interesting when Teddy Bridgewater hit an open DeVante Parker in the hands for a simple catch, but Parker was unable to haul it in and the ball bounced up into the air for Reggie Hunt’s waiting arms as Hunt raced to the endzone for a 23-yard Pick 6. Southern Miss would capitalize on their conversion attempt.
After Louisville’s ensuing drive was stopped short after a Scott Radcliff drop from a scrambling Teddy Bridgewater on 3rd & Long the Golden Eagles would get a field goal after a 50-yard rush from Desmond Johnson. Louisville’s tackling was becoming a problem at this point in the game, the rain was an excuse to NOT bring ball-carriers down. This had to stop or the Cards would continue to be in trouble. As it was, the Golden Eagle drive was capped off with 21-yard FG from Corey Acosta to give the Golden Eagles a 10-6 advantage.
A sack on Teddy Bridgewater on 3rd & 1 ended a nice drive and then the player I called the potential “Wild Card” in the game Kedrick Hardy broke off a HUGE gain for 44-yards basically through Hakeem Smith. Louisville’s tackling was again really suspect on this drive, but Hardy’s run was inspired. What I didn’t understand was why USM didn’t go back to Hardy more often as he finished with just 4 carries (I focus on Louisville so maybe he got dinged?). Southern Miss was happy to settle for a FG, but the Cards slid into Kicker Corey Acosta on the Slip & Slide surface that was MM Roberts Stadium making the Golden Eagles the beneficiary of a 5-yard running into the kicker penalty. With a new set of downs USM only need 11-yards to pay dirt which they quickly did for a 17-6 lead.
Southern Miss would not score after this point with 6:09 remaining in the 2nd quarter. Louisville would take the ball after a short kickoff 57 yards on 9 plays (all rushes) for an answer Touchdown with just 1:30 before halftime. This type of drive, with 3 rushes from Jeremy Wright and 6 from Senorise Perry was really the blueprint for both teams for the rest of the game. The Cards seemed to get some space and advantage moving the defense side to side trying to get some running room and with the conditions the way they were this style gave the offense more of a chance to move the ball.
In the second half, Louisville quickly forced a 3 AND OUT before a dominating possession of 15 plays for 75 yards where the Cards held the ball for 9:13 before settling for a field goal. As dominating as the possession was on paper, the Cards got some help from Southern Miss in the form of two huge 15-yard penalties (facemask & late hit on Teddy Bridgewater). Both fouls were legit, but Southern Miss had an opportunity to get off the field twice as both penalties occurred on 3rd down. Ultimately though, the drive was stalled once the Cards got themselves into the redzone when Jeremy Wright took a loss on 1st down and Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on 3rd. John Wallace booted the field goal to pull the Cards within 2 points, 17-15.
The 3rd quarter was lightning quick and the 4th quarter opened with Southern Miss attempting a 47-yard field goal from Corey Acosta. Acosta was in position for 3-points after 3 moderate gains from the Golden Eagles, but before the kick I really questioned putting a kicker out there to make a spot kick like that in a puddle. I personally thought Acosta would take the direct snap and punt the ball and the field goal formation was more to prevent a return. In fact, Louisville was in Field Goal Safe and really didn’t go after many kicks after extending Southern Miss’ drive on their previous score.
As it was Acosta did attempt the field goal and had impressive range, but his ball hit the upright squarely and bounced back onto the field of play. This was a huge play as the ball literally could have gone an inch left and possibly gone through.
The game would grind on through the rain, with both teams trading 3 AND OUTs. Eli Rogers dropped a key 3rd down, and Southern Miss’ passing game was non-existent under freshman Ricky Lloyd. Then things got interesting, Jeremy Wright looked to be getting into a good running groove after gaining 29 yards on consecutive carries. Wright followed with a nice 3rd consecutive run for 6 yards, but would lose the ball and give it back to Southern Miss.
With both teams running the football almost exclusively, the game was basically a running clock. So even though their was 10:55 to go at this point, with 3 timeouts, the game was much closer to being over than would be typical for a 2-point game. But Deiontrez Mount made an absolutely beauty of a play with a 19-yard sack on 2nd down for the Golden Eagles possession which set up a punt.
The punt was, well…….a product of the conditions. Peter Boehme was kicking out of a lake and his 6-yarder gave the Cards the ball at the 22-yard line. In the stat book it will say that Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry carried the football, but it was really more than that. The 22-yards to the endzone was literally a group carry effort. The Running Backs, the Offensive Line, the Wide Receivers, the coaches, the sideline, even the rain. They all carried the ball for Louisville on this drive. In the end though, Senorise Perry actually did tote the rock to paydirt in a ‘will not be denied/we are not settling for a FG’ touchdown. But just for good measure, the XP was blocked which gave the Cards just a 21-17 lead with 5:27 to go.
Southern Miss had an opportunity, but without a passing game scoring was going to be tough. USM did manage to put together a drive of 13 plays for 57 yards, but after Kedrick Hardy lost 4 yards on 2nd down the drive was getting desperate. Obviously in a 4 down situation, Ricky Lloyd attempted to make 4th down more manageable with a 4 yard rush to set up 4th & 5. The play call was…….well….unconventional. But hey, I’ve seen it work. Southern Miss was beginning to get desperate as they were moving the ball, but slowly, and needed a big play to give themselves a chance to win. The halfback passback to Ricky Lloyd was snuffed out by linebacker George Durant (who should have picked it off, come on man!) and gave the Cards the ball and the win. 21-17.
For me, Louisville’s game against Southern Miss was way more about finding the will to win than being more skilled than Southern Miss. The amount of rain that was dumped on the field at MM Roberts Stadium Saturday was something I’ve only seen one other time (2002 vs. Florida State) and the game was basically played in a shallow pond. I can’t place blame on Southern Miss’ drainage system there was just simply more water than the area could deal with.
But with the weather the game’s best player, Teddy Bridgewater, was essentially disabled as the ball was too wet and heavy to handle. Pass protection, with lineman moving backwards to protect had increased degree of difficulty and just weren’t able to give Teddy the time he needed to get the ball out. As a result, the Cards elected to go with a more straight-forward approach: Run the Football.
We can go through the stats, but in a game like this throw everything out the window. Teams can come together in conditions like this, in rallies like this one. Sure Louisville beat a winless team, but they did so in an unconventional way, riding their defense, essentially without their best player, in comeback fashion. That means something long-term and this team has had its share of lessons recently.
There were 23 passes attempted in the game between both teams, and 80 rushes. It wasn’t the 1940s the conditions were THAT bad. Bridgewater’s INT for a TD was as much to do with the weather as was Southern Miss’ 6-yard punt that gave the Cards a short field for the go-ahead score as well as the 5-yard running into the kicker penalty that allowed the Golden Eagles to trade a FG for a Touchdown. Also Louisville had 3 touchdowns in the game and converted none of the point after attempts after a botched snap/hold, a failed two-pointer, and a blocked XP. Southern Miss played a tough game, but they didn’t miss opportunities, they just didn’t really create any either. The Cards allowed 176 yards on the ground in the 1st half and after throwing out whatever excuses were in their way came out in the 2nd half and won the game behind an incredible 48 yards on 25 carries. Lastly, Louisville was 8 of 14 on 3rd Down compared to Southern Miss’ 2 of 12 on the money down…….that’s huge and a big reason why the Cards dominated the ball 34:27 to 24:38 (I have no idea where the other 5 seconds went….who cares).
I can’t really close out my review without really giving a round of applause to the Cardinal Defense. This group really hasn’t been able to find a groove all season. Teams have gone around their front 7, they’ve missed some chances to get to the QB, and just generally haven’t been able to play to their true identity. But in the 2nd half of the Southern Miss game, this group played like a driven group of men. Louisville went to a 3-3-5 with 3 big linebackers of Preston Brown, Keith Brown, and George Durant.
Also the Louisville Offensive Line…….fantastic job of keeping your head in the fight, especially when John Miller went down (he seemed OK after the game, should be fine for PITT). Kamran Joyer filled in really nicely in replacement. But this game isn’t a win without Kupper, Miller/Joyer, Benavides, Jake Smith, and Jamon Brown. Incredible focus and fight from this group, especially on a few of those late runs that gave the Cards the extra push.
All in all I’m really proud of this group. Was Southern Miss a good team? Nope, but they fought like hell when Mother Nature evened the playing field. Louisville needed a game like this, they needed a game that would test their mental focus for 4 quarters. And the Cards started rolling once they stopped focusing on the excuses and decided to just will themselves to a win. That’s football. Really good football in less than ideal conditions. This game was honest. It was just honest, brutal football.
As great as it is to be 5-0 for the 7th time in school history there is still a lot of work to do. The Cards’ win Saturday closed their out of conference slate and from here on out will play conference games exclusively. Like it or not, the Cards’ conference record will determine its post-season fate. At this point Louisville is unlikely to be in the national title picture. But it isn’t out of the question with quite a bit of chaos in the polls. But at this point, Louisville shouldn’t concern itself with the big picture of College Football, it should focus solely on their Big East schedule and their next upcoming game…..Pitt in two weeks at Heinz Field.
It’s not lost on me that Louisville has been playing in terrible conditions in terms of weather all season. We had a torrential down pour leading up to the UK game, a flood outside of FIU’s stadium, and Lake Hattiesburg. So I’m a little concerned about trekking to Heinz Field where the surface is grass and potentially muddy. Obviously we are too far out for any forecast as the game is 13 days away at this point, but I think the Cards should be fully prepared to deal with adverse conditions. That is unless Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises” decides to show up again at Heinz Field in two weeks….
The Cards will let the national landscape take care of some of the remaining undefeated and ranked opponents ahead of the Cards. I’m going to be keen on #23 Washington at #2 Oregon, #4 LSU at #10 Florida, #5 Georgia at #6 South Carolina, #8 West Virginia @ #11 Texas, Miami @ #9 Notre Dame, #21 Nebraska @ #12 Ohio State, Arizona @ #18 Stanford, and of course the games that include the Big East.
While the nation lines up and puts their records on the line Louisville’s coaches will be out recruiting touting their (your) program’s unblemished record and national ranking. Also Left Guard John Miller will have some time to heal and get back onto the field, along with possibly the first look at Dominique Brown for the 2012 season. This BYE week comes at a great time, it breaks up the season from OOC to Conference and after 5 games and a lot of different conditions these guys probably are in need of a little mental break. I’m looking forward to heading to Pitt for one last home game before a 3-game home stand.
Quick Personal Note:
Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ block on Louisville’s extra point following Senorise Perry’s TD was Southern Miss’ first blocked XP since 2001 vs. Alabama, a game I also attended………