They vowed to never let it happen again.
After two shocking, heartbreaking losses last season to Uconn and Syracuse.
Things were supposed to be much different now.
The Cards claimed they had matured. No team would jump up and catch them off guard like years past. This year was different.
When UCF QB Blake Bortles – who finished with 250 yards passing – hit Jeff Godfrey for a 2-yard pass with 23 seconds left, reality hit. One year later and not much difference.
You could say that Central Florida (6-1, 2-0) came to Louisville (6-1, 1-1) and simply beat the Cardinals. You’d be right. You could also say that Louisville got outplayed and were outgained. Once again; you’d be right. However, when a veteran group takes a 21-point lead midway through the third and loses 38-35; it’s a mental failure.
“We gave up a 21 point lead and that should never happen.” Head Coach Charlie Strong said.
He also didn’t seem to think that his team hit the relaxation button after. But one would think that a mental lapse such as a Senorise Perry fumble that shifted momentum and led to a quick score for Knights is a result of something.
“It felt like we relaxed a little bit,” Senior LB Preston Brown said after the loss. “It’s not like you could see it on the sidelines but it’s just that people weren’t bring their feet to the tackles. They’re was just a difference.”
The consensus from Coaches, Players is that Central Florida did nothing different in the second half. But something had to be different. After all, Louisville held Central Florida to 7 points in the first half and the second half gave up 31 points. If it wasn’t Central Florida, it had to be Louisville, right?
“They are a great team,” RB Dominique Brown said. “But we stopped ourselves pretty much. From an offensive standpoint, we left drives out there. We couldn’t get them off the field and third down. We didn’t play to our best.”
Dominique Brown did his part. The Junior RB from Cincinnati finished with a dazzling 12 carries and 82 yards, along with 2 TDS, one that gave the Cardinals a late advantage.
Teddy Bridgewater did his part.
The Heisman Hopeful was near prefect in defeat. He finished with 341 yards passing, 2 TDs and led a drive down-the-field to give Louisville a late lead highlighted by a shovel pass that would have made Peyton Manning jealous.
It was the Louisville Defense. The one that had became a security blanket so often this season for the Cardinals that allowed Central Florida to capture the historic win. By not playing ‘to their best’, and whether they’d admit it or not looking utterly confused as UCF RB Storm Johnson ran around them finishing with 109 yards and TD.
Different season with a veteran filled group, yet the same result. A loss against a team that Louisville clearly outclassed, based on pure mental lapses and improper prep work.
“We had our opportunities and we just didn’t finish.” Head Coach Charlie Strong noted.
Spot on, Mr. Strong. Tonight was a cruel reminder that Louisville still awaits their place to move into the Elite category of College Football. The Alabama’s and Oregon’s of the world turn on the kill switch when up big late. They finish. They don’t let off the throttle. Those teams don’t to what Louisville did.
Sure, Louisville as a team has grown in age after last season. But how much have the Cards grown up?
A team that does what Louisville did tonight sure looks like one complied of Freshmen and Sophomores rather than Juniors and Seniors.
“Our goals are still there and we still have a chance to win the Conference,” Strong noted. “Now we’re one behind them (UCF). We’ve got to continue to play well and get better.”
Now Louisville must turn there attention away from the BCS conversation.
They must focus on one game at a time.
They must now go to South Florida and win in a place they’ve never played well.
They must rely on helps from its adopted AAC brethren, that somewhere along the line, Central Florida gets tripped up by a few.
Louisville may have gone from a BCS Bowl to a Russell Athletic Bowl in 23 seconds, simply because they lost their head for 5 minutes.
Mature? Maybe not yet. But growth can’t come without lessons absorbed along the way.