It’s about that time again, Card fans. Here at the Crunch Zone, LJ Nesbitt, Joe Kelly, and myself conducted a preseason round table in anticipation of the football season. I will now pause while you go read said preview and laugh hysterically at how wide-eyed and naive we all were…

Alright, you back? We all sat down once more to discuss the state of our football team as it stands after six games. I suggest you pour a tall bourbon (we did) before reading. Hope you enjoy.

What mid-season grade would you give the offense?

Joe: C+. I never imagined the offense could look this bad given the improvements made from last season. We’ve all but completely removed the RB position from the option. Not sure how we open the field up for Lamar when we don’t establish the run game and utilize the play action off of it. This is beyond frustrating.

LJ: C+. If it wasn’t for Lamar it would be a D. I never thought we would see Petrino coached team that won’t run the ball. I also never thought Bobby would hamper his best player. We have weapons everywhere but are happy with using a water gun.

Dave: And it’s not even a Super Soaker, LJ. I give us a C, based almost solely on overall production. But anybody who has watched this team knows that something is off. Stop me if you have heard this before: WE DON’T GIVE THE BALL TO THE RUNNING BACKS. I am not even sure how we’ve managed any success at all.

What is your mid-season grade for the defense?

LJ: I give them a D. I was ready to grade an F but I took into consideration the rash of injuries to linebackers and DB’s. This team is not the same without Jaire Alexander. Throw in the fact Drew Bailey has been injured and now we are without Stacey Thomas and things have been rough here lately. BUT….that does not give a pass to the other issues we have seen with secondary giving up chunks of yards, missed tackles, failure to defend the double move, and so on. Peter Sirmon gets an F in coaching.

Dave: It’s really hard not to go with an F. Our defense, by the numbers, is historically bad. We just made NC State look like the Greatest Show on Turf. But I will give a D- because of the massive injuries to our best players on that side of the ball. It has to be a consideration. I knew we were thin at a few spots, but that’s no excuse for how bad we’ve been playing. No push up front, no pass rush, soft middle of the field, and inexplicable technique in the defensive backfield. Hopefully there is a late season defensive Renaissance.

Joe: Agree with D, would be an F but injuries have shown how thin we are. Now that I’ve acknowledged injuries I would also like to say Darrelle Revis & Deion Sanders would look basic under current play-calling.

Grade the coaching staff

Dave: D+. That’s not a grade I like to give out much (RIP Chris Farley). The defense has been a disaster this season, and it can only be partially attributed to injury. The inability to get pressure with or without blitzing, the consistently soft middle of the field, and the confusing technique and situational awareness of our DBs has been depressing. So, Peter Sirmon has been a failure thus far. A very well paid failure. The offensive line has overall been solid. Not perfect, but Mike Summers deserves credit for blending and developing two new starters this season. Mekhi Becton has been one of the best freshman on the country…also he might be a demigod. I am not entirely sure his dad isn’t some kind of mythical God brought to Earth. Do not cross that man.

Bobby Petrino has been a confusing case. I am reticent to criticize such a proven offensive mind, but the offensive philosophy has been disjointed and at times downright befuddling. We refuse to run the ball with our RBs, when it seems to be the most logical answer in our times of struggle. When Lamar and the receivers both came out a little amped at the beginning of the Clemson game, we needed to establish rhythm and possess the ball for a while. Instead we threw on first, second, and third down. It’s such an obvious answer that it makes me wonder if there isn’t a larger problem we aren’t seeing. I know running back depth is not there due to a rash of injuries, but if we leave the entire burden of the offense on Lamar’s shoulders, odds are he ends up hurt at some point too. It’s too much for any one player, even Superman.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the penalties. I never thought I would see undisciplined play under Bobby Petrino.

Joe: D. You seriously could argue F if it weren’t for Lamar. I understand depth and injuries but the gameplay itself is confusing. We’ve beat the dead horse that is lack of running game and ten yard cushions on third and short but it really is that frustrating. I feel like the staff is limited to the 8 possible plays on Joe Montana Football for Sega Genesis. It angers me to discuss so I’m going to move along as not to be mad online.

LJ: D-. This is not the Cardinals that you’re looking for. This team has not played one complete game and with 6 games left not sure we will see one this year. This staff has done a horrible job on all 3 phases of the game.

Pick a song to describe the first half of the season. Pick one for the second half.

Joe: If I’m allowed to include the music video I think November Rain is absolutely perfect. Pre-season was the bar/wedding montage. Everything was great, everyone is happy and celebrating. The look on the brides face leaving the church I equate to our concerns about the team leading into the game. When I re-watched the video all I could think was College Game Day was the wedding reception, Clemson was the storm that ruined the event. Hell Kelly Bryant hopped up on our piano like Slash and ripped a killer riff while his band mates kept the rhythm going. NC State was the scene at the end when Axl wakes up in a cold sweat.

The song moving forward? Publicly, King Of Wishful Thinking only because I don’t like to drag others down. Privately? I’m Broken, by Pantera, I don’t think an explanation is needed.

LJ: At the beginning of the year it was “Triumph” by Wu-Tang. The entire team was on a crazy vibe and the confidence was incredible. Now, after 6 games it’s Numb by Linkin Park. We are just all shell-shocked by what we have seen the last few weeks.

Dave: First half song is “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies because I honestly have no earthly idea what the hell is going on most of the time with this team.

Second half song is “Return of the Mack”, because I live in a world where starting Saturday our offense is a whirlwind of counters, delayed screens, and tight end drag routes that have me thinking about Orange Bowls & Brian Brohm & all other manner of mid-2000s nostalgia.

It’s fun to dream.

Who is our Offensive MVP (non-Lamar category)?

Dave: A few names come to mind. I love what Mekhi Becton has brought to the table as our weak side tackle. He has done as well as anybody could have expected as a true freshman starter. Robbie Bell has also excelled (after some early issues with the cadence) overall in his role at center. But as far as most valuable player? Before his injury, you could make a strong case for Jaylen Smith. At this point, the answer is Dez Fitzpatrick. He has been the most consistent receiving threat all season, and has scored 6 touchdowns in 6 games. An impressive stat. We are seeing the emergence of a superstar.

Joe: Dez Fitzpatrick and it isn’t close in my opinion. Dez has been a bright spot in a frustrating season thus far. He’s an elite route runner that will be mentioned alongside Arnold Jackson, Deion Branch, & Harry Douglas when we talk about guys who knew how to leverage defenders and get open in tight spaces. It’s also really nice seeing a guy in red consistently haul in catches. Dez is going to help keep me intact this season.

LJ: Dez. I shouldn’t have to explain why. Dude is the reason we won 3 of our four games.

Who has been the defensive MVP to this point?

LJ: Jonathan Greenard has been a absolute beast the 1st six games. He is everywhere the ball is and he is not even a starter!!! He is clearly the mid-season MVP. True freshman Dorian Etheridge would be my next choice.

Dave: I mean, in the purest sense of the word, Jaire has proven to be our most valuable player…BUT in the real world application, it has to be Greenard. He has been a tone setter and a leader when he’s on the field. We’ve found our defensive leader for the foreseeable future. So that’s nice, I guess.

Joe: Uhh, umm, hmm, *shuffles papers* JONATHAN GREENARD

There’s hasn’t been much defensively besides his play off the edge that inspires much enthusiasm. Oh and he isn’t a starter, so we have that going for us, which is nice, I guess…..*stares off into a cornfield*

Let’s talk about Lamar Jackson. Thoughts on his first half? Does he leave after this year?

Dave: Lamar has played very well. He has excelled while shouldering the lion’s share of the offensive burden. Early in the season, his pocket presence and touch looked much improved, but he is not without faults. As the season has worn on, his deep ball has seemed to flatten out. He has incredible arm strength, but he is putting serious zip on some touch throws. He also came out a little off against Clemson and NC State. Granted, there were drops on balls that should’ve been caught. In the past few games, he has gotten happy feet a few times, and in a few instances, held the ball for an extended period in a clean pocket. He would be helped tremendously by a more balanced attack. Continuously passing when it isn’t working has served to dig a deeper hole in a few games this year. In the second half of the year, we have to develop a running game with whatever backs are healthy if we expect to excel.

As far as the second question…I have no earthly idea. Most of me thinks it’s in his best interest if he receives a 2nd round grade or better. If for no other reason, he possesses the ball more than any player in college football, and the risk of injury is enormous over the course of a season. As much as I want to see him in black and red in 2018, I want what’s best for him first. If I have to choose, I’d say he is gone.

PS – Barring injury, he will succeed at the next level. If I have to see another mock draft or draft analyst propping up Josh Allen or Sam Darnold…I’m going to lose it. It’s WEIRD how large their margin of error seems to be…

Joe: My gut says he doesn’t but my brain and wallet say he really should if he’s projected as a first round pick. Drafts are tricky, there’s only a handful of can’t miss guys and even then there are always can’t miss guys who absolutely missed. That being said, you only need one team to fall in love with you, see Tim Tebow. Either way I hope the best for him because he has been an amazing distraction from literally everything else at UofL. I’ll get deeper into this as becomes closer to a reality but I can’t think about this team minus Lamar covering its warts.

LJ: He gone. He is projected as a 1st or 2nd rounder. He may come back but after being underutilized this year Lamar may be ready to bounce. If he does return, he risks the chance of losing millions. Enjoy him while you can.

Which team (nationally) has impressed you the most?

LJ: Nationally I have been impressed with our hated rival…….Clemson. Teams don’t usually lose that much talent and get better but here we are. Honestly they have a great chance of going undefeated in they get past NC State on the road. Their defense is even better and their offense appears to still be moving along. Miami has also impressed me.

Dave: Bama and Clemson are the obvious answers. For me, Georgia has looked like a playoff contender. They’ve completely dismantled three straight SEC teams, and that win at Notre Dame is looking pretty impressive at this point. It ought to be a hell of an SEC Championship game.

Joe: Bama & Clemson are the Haves of college football, everyone else is trying to catch up. I’ll be interested to see how Clemson performs without their QB for some time but they’re a tremendous team. It sorta feels like it’s those two and “Everyone Else” but I think Penn St. is definitely in the conversation for the three spot. As for the fourth, well I’m glad I’m not on the committee. This season is weird, like 2007 weird. It makes our missteps so much more infuriating because this is the year someone could backdoor their way into conference championships or possibly CFP.

We’ve got a nooner this Saturday vs. BC. What’s your favorite cocktail to enjoy during a Kegs n’ Eggs tailgate?

Dave: I’m a Bloody Mary man. I’m talking a real Bloody Mary. Spicy, hearty, strong, delicious. A meal in a glass. Not some Popov with tomato juice. I used to make my own mix by the gallon every time there was opportunity (and its damn delicious…all manner of spices and garlic and peppers), but I’m washed and spend a great deal of time prepping and cooking food, so I usually pick up some Zing Zang and throw some hot sauce, celery salt, and Worcestershire in there with the vodka. Garnish with a celery stick, or a piece of bacon, or a hot pickle.

If you want to go the sweet route, a good White Russian is never a bad decision.

Joe: Mimosas are always a good AM cocktail because you get a nice buzz, sort of a “pop” buzz, and you get a week’s worth of vitamin C if you put them down like TCZ does. A passion of mine is making Bloody Mary’s for people despite have no time or tolerance for tomato juice. If you come to a tailgate with me in the AM treat yourself to one of my award winning libations, but fair warning, your nose will run from the heat. The tricky thing about noon kickoffs is later in the season when freezing cold outside, at that point you drink to stay warm, warm booze you say? Indeed I did. This is what those heathens made Fireball for. Add Fireball to some warm Hubers Cider and in no time you’ll take your shirt off and express an interest in body paint.

LJ: Bourbon. Always bourbon. I don’t agree with anything Joe said above.

Final Record

Joe: No clue. None. We could run the remaining schedule to a misleading 10-2 finish or we could make some very average offenses look efficient and drop a couple more head scratchers. I have little faith in this team and staff at the moment.

LJ: We could go 4-2, 3-3, or 6-0. I really don’t know or care to guess. The defensive issues have me in F it mode. I will still support the team regardless.

Dave: Make that three votes for “No clue”. I’ll take a shot in the dark and say 8-4. I’m not even going to begin to figure out where those losses are coming

 

I know a lot of you are probably wondering why this feels so overly negative for a 4-2 football team. Probably a fair question. But it’s not about the record. It’s really not. It’s about the way we won and lost those games. We were in a dog fight with one very average, and another sort of bad Power 5 team. We were never in the game against Clemson. We look uninspired against two bad football teams and completely over-matched against a good NC State team. We were lucky they made so many mistakes or that game could have gotten ugly. We are not in our nature negative people (Well, LJ kind of is), but the play speaks for itself. Hopefully the second half revival starts with BC. I’ll be there with bells on.

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