Welcome back from a much needed bye week. I am sure everybody in the city of Louisville enjoyed their week off, except for maybe Bobby Petrino. I am not sure a coach has had a worse bye week in recent memory. First, a key player is arrested and suspended indefinitely from the program, then the native son and primary candidate to replace Petrino spanks the #2 ranked team in the country in prime time, and finally the star of said upset is a true freshman from Trinity High School. And that all happened by Saturday night. Top that off with the whirlwind of rumors surrounding the program, Chris Klenakis physically reporting to jail, and a second Kemari Averett-related report, and it’s hard to imagine a worse two week stretch for an already embattled coach. If it’s possible to lose the bye week, UofL (specifically Bobby Petrino), may have figured out how.
All of that aside, the Cards have what may be their last winnable game at noon on Saturday. Wake Forest is an objectively terrible team, but unfortunately most of their stats bear out that they are slightly less terrible than Louisville. This game may boil down to which team has yet to give up on their season. Hopefully it’s the Cardinals.
KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Shut Out the Noise – Good luck with this one. It’s no secret that there are a great deal of rumors, off the field distractions, and general negative energy around the Louisville football program right now. Players see and hear all of it. It’s impossible not to, especially in the midst of such a disappointing season. It’s on the coaching staff and team leaders to refocus the team and prepare for the next game. Easier said than done, but sometimes negativity can be a galvanizing force. To this point in the season, that has not seemed to be the case. If there was ever a time for the 2018 Louisville football team to change the narrative, it’s off the bye week against lowly Wake Forest. Lose this game, and the chances for positive results in 2018 are slim to none. Three of the final four teams are top 25 opponents, and the fourth presents several unique challenges for the Cards. It’s now or never.
2. The Turnover Battle – This could be a key every week, but I think the Boston College game truly brought into focus how a few turnovers can affect the game. In the first quarter, BC put up two quick touchdowns, and it appeared Louisville was headed for another blowout loss. In successive possessions, the Cards were able to force and recover fumbles, one deep in BC territory. Louisville took a brief 20-14 lead, before surrendering a TD to trail 24-20 at half. Louisville ultimately lost the game, but were in it into the 4th quarter, mostly because they were able to force turnovers from a team that didn’t normally surrender the ball. This season, Wake is 97th nationally in turnover margin at -3. They have a freshman QB in Sam Hartman who has been average, but unspectacular this season. He typically gives defenses a few chances to pick him off each game. The Cards must take advantage of that. Especially considering that UofL is ranked 123rd nationally in turnover margin at -9, having forced only six total turnovers over the first seven games.
3. Offensive Line Must Eat – I know I have said some version of this pretty much every week, but Mike Summers and the offensive line have yet to find answers up front. They have seemed to settle on a lineup with Cole Bentley at center, and to his credit Cole seems to have fixed most of his shotgun snapping issues. What has not improved is the overall performance of the line. It seems like they have pre-snap recognition and communication issues, as there are countless plays each game where they seem confused on assignment. I cannot tell you how many times three blockers have been beaten by two interior rushers, or three or four rushers have beaten five linemen and a blocking back. From what I see, they are thinking too much instead of playing, which leads to slow play. By the time you reach game time, blocking assignments and technique should be almost instinctual, especially by game seven or eight. This has led to a painfully slow first step, inexplicably poor footwork, and a lack of punch/hand placement. The most frustrating part about this is that I have seen most of these players perform well in the past, and I know their position coach knows his stuff. It’s yet another aspect of this team that remains confusingly bad. Wake is 124th in total defense, 116th in scoring defense, and equally bad against the run and the pass. They don’t turn you over, and they don’t get to the quarterback. Louisville’s line must be able to control a terrible defense. The ship may have sailed for permanent improvement, but I am hoping they come out inspired off the bye week.
4. Can Louisville Get to the Quarterback? – On the flip side, the Cardinal defense must find a way to disrupt the young Wake signal-caller and get in the backfield. On the year, Louisville has SEVEN TOTAL SACKS. SEVEN. That is astounding to me. Wake is 91st in sacks allowed. The Louisville front must find a way to get negative plays against this Wake offense, and that starts with the big boys up front.
5. Keep That Same Energy – I have talked a lot about starting fast this season, and that remains important. This week I want to talk about the middle and end of games. The danger with a team that’s struggling like the Cards are this season, is players tend to check out. Coaches can lose the locker room. That leads to “fake juice” situations (shout out to Charlie Strong). You may come out hyped, but it doesn’t take but a few bad series, or a small bit of adversity, to deflate your team. Lack of success leads to a lack of team confidence. Failure is contagious, especially on bad football teams. The Cards must keep the same energy in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters that they have pregame.
WHO/WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
– As has been a theme, the sidelines. I will be watching body language, attitude, and engagement. There are lots of rumors of player dissent and locker room tumult. I hate this for the program and specifically the players. The sideline will often tell the tale.
– The Youth Movement. As disappointing as this season has been, there have been some real bright spots among the young players on the team. Tutu Atwell and Hassan Hall are budding stars, and Robert Hicks looks every bit as good as advertised. They are young and make freshman mistakes, but have been fun to watch.
– The QB situation. I hope Bobby has learned his lesson. I don’t think there is anything to be gained at this point in the season with QB changes, barring injury. The instability at the position has been jarring for the team and the development of our young quarterbacks. Last week’s substitution was clearly an emotional decision that made little sense in a game that was still within reach.
– The Matt Colburn Revenge Tour. It was well documented last season that Louisville “pulled” Colburn’s scholarship at the last second and offered him a grey shirt. This led to him attending Wake Forest and gaining a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder. While he has only eclipsed 100 yards once this season, he carved up Louisville to the tune of 137 yards last season, and the run defense this season tends to be the cure for what ails average running backs.
– My beer. I will need several.
– Big Plays. Wake gives up a lot of them. We need to capitalize on that. I hope Petrino looks to go deep early and take the top off of this very mediocre defense.
Wake Forest is a bad team. When you take out their best (51 against Towson) and worse (3 vs. Clemson) offensive outputs, they average 25 points per game. I have already told you how bad their defense is by the numbers. The problem is, Louisville, while ever so slightly better on defense, is worse on offense. Neither team has much to hang their hat on, but in general Wake moves the ball better, turns the ball over slightly less, gives up fewer sacks, etc.
This is a matchup of similar teams. The biggest difference being the amount of distraction and overall program health at UofL. Petrino feels increasingly like a coach just playing out the string, and I absolutely hate it for the kids who chose to come to my school and wear the red and black.
Wake Forest 34 – Louisville 24
The disappointing 2018 campaign rolls on, as Louisville loses an ugly one.
I hope I’m wrong. Go Cards.