A win is a win…..until it is a loss. There aren’t many Cardinal fans/followers more loyal than myself. I travel, I write, I spend HOURS covering this football program. The Syracuse game was the ONE game I elected to skip back in June. It was a conscious decision of time, resources and logic……..point blank I didn’t think the Cards could lose this game during the summer. Unfortunately, the football team took the Orange for granted as much as I did. Louisville ran into a buzzsaw on Saturday, and if we are honest this game was a long time coming for the Cards. It’s not that Syracuse is a world-beater of a team, but it is the fact that Louisville has played down to its competition throughout the season and it was just a matter of time before UofL undervalued a good team that also played its best football. Both things happened on Saturday.
Louisville football moved to 9-0 last week for the first time ever. I was elated. Losing a road conference game to a pretty good Syracuse team isn’t going to make me throw fits, BUT people need to be held accountable for losing by 19 and not factoring in the 2nd half. I’m the biggest Charlie Strong & Staff supporter that there is, but this team wasn’t ready. Before Saturday the Cards’ worst loss under Charlie Strong was a 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh during Strong’s first season, but losses like this one aren’t unprecedented for good football coaches. In 2005 (Gator Bowl season) Louisville went down 45-14 in an implausible margin of defeat on the road at South Florida. That USF team finished 6-6 and the Cardinals ROLLED through much of their season. Louisville just didn’t show up that day, much like they didn’t show up on Saturday.
I watched the game live (for the first time in 2012 not in person) and then again unemotionally on replay twice before writing. Let me start with where the problems began:
How Did It Start?
Where do I start? Well let’s start first with the 45-yard TD reception that Jeremiah Kobeana made while laying on the ground. Should a receiver ever be allowed to catch a ball like that? Should the free safety (Calvin Pryor) ever bite that hard on play-action? Um the answer to both is no. But it was great to see the Cards force an Orange field goal. Then well……after a Cardinal drive for a field goal and a puzzling fade route on 3rd and 2 UofL forced a 3 AND OUT Scott Radcliff got cute with a punt return and fumbled and gave the Orange perfect field position for an easy TD to take a 10-3 lead.
Senorise Perry went down with a leg injury. It didn’t look incredibly bad on film, but these things can sometimes be tricky. I think Perry going down rattled the Cards but UofL did manage to score on the possession thanks to a LONG screen pass to Corvin Lamb in which he went down and tied the game 10-10. I was surprised to see that Lamb got just one touch in the game……….That was the first quarter.
Breaking it Open
Louisville played Syracuse even in the 1st, 3rd, & 4th quarters. So Let’s focus on the 21-3 deficit that occurred in the 2nd quarter. The Orange started the 2nd quarter in scoring position after a 22-yard rush from Jerome Smith and a 28-yard reception to Alec Lemon. Lemon’s reception in the 1st quarter would be something that Syracuse would showcase throughout the rest of the game. Still Louisville forced a 4th & 1, and the Orange converted on a Nassib dive from the shotgun. On the play not one Cardinal was able to get penetration, the left side of the Syracuse O-line pushed past the first down marker and all Nassib had to do was carry the football…..on 4th & 1.
After a holding penalty set the Orange back a bit, Alec Lemon went back to work. Two catches and a TD. The first reception was pretty tough, Keith Brown was not covering anyone…he was too shallow on the Nassib roll out and wasn’t covering the roll out nor the zone as Lemon caught a little out route. The next play, could have been a game-changer as Adrian Bushell made a fantastic pass break-up and the ball went off Calvin Pryor’s hands after the tip. Pryor makes that play, maybe things go differently…………or am I forgetting Jerome Smith and Alec Lemon?
In any case, the next play WAS a TD to Lemon on 3rd & 9. At the snap the play looked conventional. The first 5 yards were fine. Two receivers on the left side Andrew Johnson on the outside vs. Jarrod West and Hakeem Smith on the slot vs. Alec Lemon. On the play a few things happened….first West stopped his route at 4-yards at the 10 and put his hands up like he was readying to receive the ball. Andrew Johnson and Louisville was playing what looks to be Cover 3 on film…..but let’s just for the sake of argument say that Andrew Johnson should be in Man……..he’s 8 yards away and covering Alec Lemon more than West. Johnson sees that West is wide open and stops, Hakeem Smith sees the same thing and breaks towards West leaving a double covered Alec Lemon wide open in the endzone. One player breaks down and tries to play someone else’s assignment and it’s a touchdown. Football is about knowing your assignment, playing your assignment, and trusting your teammates to do their job. That didn’t happen on this play at all. But it’s just a 7 point differential and mistakes happen so let’s move on.
When the Cards got the ball back, Adrian Bushell muffed the kick (second muffed kick of the day) but this time the Cards would keep possession but would do so starting at the 8-yard line. Play #1: run to the left side of the line, Brandon Sharpe of Syracuse used great get off and pushed Alex Kupper back 2-yards on the snap which closed the lane for fullback Nick Hesuer to show Jeremy Wright the way….Heuser had to go around Kupper and Sharpe, but Jalen Harrington (new to Tight End) attempted to seal Sharpe instead of accounting for Ri’Shard Anderson and from there it was a disaster with Siriki Diabate coming into to clean up the play with absolutely no where to run.
Play #2 Jeremy Wright missed his protection assignment against a blitzing Dy’Shawn Davis, Teddy scrambled to get away from a safety and threw an incomplete pass to Jalen Harrington. Play #3 was an incredible catch by Andrell Smith along the sideline who took a shot and hung onto the ball. Very nice.
Play #4 & #5 were modest gains to set up 3rd & 1. But Play #6 is just a lack of execution. You need ONE yard. The play was a counter left with Jake Smith pulling from his right guard position. Mario Benavides whiffed on the defensive tackle (Jay Bromley) lined up across from Smith. As Smith pulled out to lead the way, Bromley took advantage of an off-balance Jake Smith and the Cards can’t convert 3rd Down on a play like that with a Defensive Tackle there at the handoff.
When the Orange got the ball back it was more Alec Lemon. Syracuse ran 6 plays (3 rushes for a net of 1-yard) and the other 3 were passes to Lemon for a total 71 yards. So yeah SU definitely found something. I’m not saying it’s easy to cover Alec Lemon, but let me explain what happened. Catch #1: Cards were in zone principles and Lemon ran a quick out route for a short gain. Not a big deal, George Durant did a decent job in coverage and Adrian Bushell came up to help. Catch #2: On 3rd & 10 Cards were in 3-3-5 and zone. Alec Lemon went on a streak against Hakeem Smith, Smith stopped shallow and Jermaine Reve was late. Nassib found a soft spot for a big gain. Catch #3 was a TD, Lemon was on a seam streak again against Hakeem Smith and he just couldn’t check him, Lemon made a small move and just left Hakeem. Pryor tried to get over late but couldn’t. TD.
At this point the Cards were down 14 with 6:13 to go in the 2nd quarter. They would get the ball first to start the 3rd quarter, so there was no need to panic. This was a time for execution. Play #1 went for a loss on a toss to Jeremy Wright. I’d like to tell you where the breakdown was here, but honestly no one even tried to block Keon Lyn or Markus Pierce-Brewster. If you were on the right side of Louisville’s formation on this play you probably just didn’t do your job, I think that’s safe to say. Play #2 was a simple pass to the flat for a small gain, Play #3 was after a 5-yard offside call, and was a first down check down for Teddy to Jeremy Wright. Play #4 was a no-gain rush for Jeremy Wright who had Jake Smith pull a little slow out of his right guard spot and fall right in front of his rushing lane. Wright was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. Play #5 was an incompletion from Teddy to Hubbell that looked like half of the team rolled out one way and the other half went the other. Play #6 was 3rd & 10 screen pass that wasn’t enough.
Syracuse was able to get the ball back with 2:52 remaining and it took them just 3 plays to score. This time it was a 55-yard rushing TD to Prince Tyson-Gulley. On the play the hole created by the Syracuse O-line was a thing of beauty…..seriously perfect play call & execution. If you like football and don’t necessarily care who wins and loses this is a play to appreciate. Louisville was playing an unbalanced nickel against trips on the left side. Burgress blitzed from the wide outside leaving Preston Brown the lone man in the middle, the left guard sealed the hole and had a great block on Preston Brown (who probably wouldn’t have factored anyway) then it was just Calvin Pryor missing a tackle (came in on weird angle) and BOOM. Wide open spaces. Perfect play call against that defense.
The Cards would get the ball back with 2:13 remaining and really needed to go down and score a TD. Louisville would put together an 11-play drive before stalling and settling for a field goal. Looking back on it, with the way the game ended up maybe you can say UofL should have gone for it on the 4th & 2…….but in the first half it’s important to get points and while the Cards played with Syracuse in quarters 1, 3, & 4 they didn’t beat the Orange in any of those quarters either.
Let’s Talk Defense
Syracuse was 14 of 19 on 3rd Down. 14 of 19. That’s a ridiculous number. I’m happy to give Syracuse a lot of credit for this game. They absolutely won it. But the Cards came into the game allowing just 41.59% on 3rd Down. That figure is a little higher than a defense would typically like, but it’s a far cry from the 73.7% Syracuse did on Saturday. In fact, there are a TON of measureables that are way out of character from Charlie Strong’s previous two seasons. Let’s take a look:
|Scoring Defense||19.4 (18th)||20.1 (17th)||24.6 (46th)|
|Total Defense||311.7 (14th)||327.9 (23rd)||355.9 (36th)|
|Rushing Defense||144.31 (52nd)||100.54 (10th)||161.0 (68th)|
|Passing Defense||167.4 (9th)||227.4 (68th)||194.9 (22nd)|
|Opponent’s 3rd Down||34.09% (13th)||38.14% (49th)||46.21% (102nd)|
|Tackles for Loss||6.62 (31st)||7.08 (22nd)||4.70 (95th)|
|Sacks||2.92 (7th)||2.54 (19th)||1.8 (74th)|
Clearly, the numbers just don’t stack up. The Passing Defense numbers are actually skewed somewhat by two games (Southern Miss & Temple) in which opponents didn’t really attempt to pass the ball at all. The numbers that REALLY stand out are Opponent’s 3rd down, sacks, and Tackles for loss. For much of the season I felt like there was a fundamental shift of not allowing the big play due to Louisville’s offense being much more proficient in 2012 than in the previous two seasons. The thought being, don’t make mistakes let your opponent make the mistakes. Against Syracuse the Cards allowed 13 plays of 10+ yards (none in the 4th quarter).
Missing in action
The Cards have been playing without DeAngelo Brown, Daniel Brown, and Lorenzo Mauldin due to injury. BJ Dubose and Charles Gaines were missing for the 2nd straight game due to injury. The Cards were dominated on the D-line on Saturday as the defense allowed 524 yards and allowed the most points at Louisville since Charlie Strong arrived.
The injured players I hope get back soon and can help as a healthy able body. For the suspended players………whatever it was is selfish. Charles Gaines has missed 3 games so far in 2012 for undisclosed reasons, and this was the 2nd game in a row for Dubose. I could find out what it was, but I really don’t want to be disgusted to find out why two very important pieces of a 9-0 football team found themselves in violation of team rules. I applaud Charlie Strong for being principled as the Cards really could have used Dubose on Saturday. Instead the suspended players teammates were left with a heavier load due to their absence.
Happy Birthday Teddy. You deserved better on your birthday. It’s a long season and college football is like this. Every team has a game that it can’t explain in terms of lacking execution, but Teddy Bridgewater brought his game as he finished 36 of 49 for 424 yards and 3 Touchdowns. With that Teddy moved up the list of several records:
|Total Offense||Total Offense|
|1||Chris Redman||12129||1||4009||Redman 1998|
|2||Brian Brohm||10819||2||3978||Brohm 2007|
|3||Dave Ragone||9161||3||3550||LeFors 2003|
|4||Stefan LeFors||6609||4||3537||Redman 1999|
|5||Jay Gruden||6564||5||3128||Ragone 2002|
|6||Jeff Brohm||5410||6||3122||Ragone 2001|
|7||Teddy Bridgewater||5150||7||3094||Brohm 2006|
|8||Ed Rubbert||4979||8||2958||Redman 1997|
|9||Marty Lowe||4683||9||2955||Bridgewater 2012|
|10||Browning Nagle||4495||10||2929||LeFors 2004|
|1||Chris Redman||1031||1||Chris Redman||84|
|2||Brian Brohm||780||2||Dave Ragone||74|
|3||Dave Ragone||685||3||Brian Brohm||71|
|4||Jay Gruden||572||4||Jay Gruden||44|
|5||Ed Rubbert||430||5||Jeff Brohm||38|
|6||Marty Lowe||416||5||Stefan LeFors||38|
|6||Stefan LeFors||416||7||Teddy Bridgewater||35|
|8||Teddy Bridgewater||408||8||John Madeya||34|
|9||Jeff Brohm||402||9||Browning Nagle||32|
|10||John Madeya||364||10||Dean May||29|
|Season Completions||TD Passes|
|1||Redman (’99)||319||1||Brian Brohm (’07)||30|
|2||Redman (’98)||309||2||Redman (’98)||29|
|3||Brohm (’07)||308||2||Redman (’99)||29|
|4||Redman (’97)||261||4||Ragone (’00)||27|
|5||Ragone (’02)||237||5||Ragone (’02)||24|
|6||Ragone (’01)||231||6||Ragone (’01)||23|
|7||Gruden (’88)||224||7||Bridgewater (’12)||21|
|8||LeFors (’03)||219||8||Jeff Brohm (’93)||20|
|9||Bridgewater (’12)||217||8||Lefors (’04)||20|
|10||Ragone (’00)||216||10||Brian Brohm (’05)||19|
|2||Brian Brohm (’07)||4024|
Bye Week Moving forward
On Saturday, the youth that had me pick the Cards to go 9-3 back in June finally came back into the equation. For so many other games in 2012 the Cards were able to find a way to win. Sometimes in dramatic fashion. Against Syracuse the hole was too big, the mind wasn’t right. Maybe it was the dome, maybe it was the road, maybe it was the special teams gaffe, the Senorise Perry injury, or maybe Syracuse was just better than Louisville on Saturday. Sometimes that happens. Syracuse was able to exploit the Cardinal defense right up the middle on the ground and exposed the secondary with Alec Lemon.
I think this team needs a BYE week worse than any team in the country. I think there are small bumps and bruises and the mental focus just has fallen off. Maybe a loss can help focus this team, but Charlie Strong said after the game that he was “embarrassed for the program”. It’s one thing to get beat, nothing wrong with that. But getting blown out by a team that has 5 losses when you are undefeated is embarrassing. If Syracuse had beaten the Cards by 7 or less Coach Strong wouldn’t have said that. He knows that his team didn’t show up, and I’d hate to be one of his players that he was trying to get the attention of.
This team can still accomplish everything it set out to do. Win the conference and gain the BCS bid. Undefeated seasons are special and it’s important to not get too down on a team that started 9-0. This is still a young team that struggles handling success and the grind of a season. Time to learn some lessons and move on.