Okay, one of the problems with making bold predictions is when those predictions don’t exactly hold up, you have to man up and take your medicine. Today is my day of atonement for my boisterous prediction that didn’t come to fruition on Saturday in Death Valley. Truthfully, I’m not all that surprised that Saturday night’s game didn’t end with the 56-20 shellacking as I had predicted. Quite frankly, I was also not terribly surprised in the final outcome. (A quick review of my pre-season prediction from episode 69 of thecrunchzone.com podcast shows I called Louisville’s season as 11-1 with the lone loss to Clemson.) However, the last thing I will do is come on this site, or anywhere else, and back down from my love of this team. Truthfully, I still prefer my Cards, to those Tigers, Alabama’s Crimson Tide, Michigan’s Wolverines, and on and on. Essentially, my team has Lamar Jackson, and yours doesn’t. That’s enough for me. That said, my prognostication abilities are an F.
For the third time in as many years, this Louisville team has come up a play or two short against Clemson. A missed tackle here, a blown 3rd down conversion there, a batted pass, an ill placed first down marker, four or five obvious pass interference calls that weren’t, the list literally could go on and on and on… Ultimately, none of those things matter in the win column. To argue about it, or point it out sounds like sour grapes. To grow as a program, Louisville has to find a way to overcome those hurdles.
To evaluate Saturday’s game you must start and stop with the Clemson fans and the atmosphere that was on display. There may be no stronger home field advantage than the one Louisville faced on Saturday night. From all accounts, the fan base at Clemson is one of the classiest ones around, and it is nice to have a “friendly rivalry” with folks who aren’t completes cousin lovers. (Looking at you UK and WVU fan.) That said, a few of Clemson’s mouth breathers made it into my Twitter mentions after Saturday’s game, and to them I extend a hearty, “go screw yourself.” For all of the rest, you received my standard “yeah, no kidding. Good luck the rest of the season.” Overall, Clemson fan, you get an A.
Offensively, Louisville is as good as advertised. Although there was a definite feeling out process in the early portion of the game, and a well executed game plan by the Tigers, Louisville eventually demonstrated what we as fans have known for some time; Bobby Petrino + Lamar Jackson = fireworks. The O-line for Louisville certainly had their hands full early in the game, and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did a masterful job, as we all knew he would. Beginning in the 2nd quarter, the O-line seemed to find their legs and provided Jackson with ample protection in which to operate. Considering the late game false start, the rocky beginning, the constant early pressure Jackson found himself under, and Hughley’s impossibly high snap, I would have to give the Louisville O-line a C.
Receivers, running backs and QB play for Louisville was steady, if not stellar. Ball security is an issue, and in a one possession game, turnovers are fatal. Whether it’s Radcliff’s fumble, or Lamar’s pick in the first half, Louisville simply cannot overcome key turnovers in a game of this magnitude. Given those miscues, and the early game challenges, I would grade the skill players offensively at a B.
Defensively, Louisville looked stellar, and subpar in the same game. The bludgeoning that occurred in the second quarter simply cannot happen if your goal is to compete for National Championships. Certainly, Clemson had a lot to do with the outcome, but tackles that were made in the first four games of this season were seemingly not present in the second quarter, or on Clemson’s final scoring drive. The Clemson O-line, who had rightfully been much maligned for their early season play, looked much improved in the early going of Saturday’s game. In the second half, the defensive adjustments took hold and Louisville looked like the better team, but by then the Cardinals were digging out of an 18 point hole. I would grade their overall defensive performance as a C+.
Special teams have been a concern for this year’s squad since day one. With the exception of Jaire Alexander’s electrifying performance against FSU, I cannot recall a single bright spot with respect to this unit. Field goal attempts are an adventure (including extra points now apparently) and kickoffs aren’t much better. I know there is a thought that Louisville is attempting to have the ball land at the five yard line so they can hold the opponent to something between the 15-25 yard line to start. If that is indeed the plan, let me be the first to suggest we scrap that freaking plan. If our guy is capable of kicking it out of the end zone, let’s do that. I have yet to see a TD return on a kick that goes out of the end zone. Perhaps no play is bigger from Saturday night than the long return after Louisville took the 8 point advantage midway through the fourth quarter. Special teams grade C-.
Questioning coaching is not something I ever feel qualified to do. At least, not with respect to football coaching. I have made no secret that when it comes to football, I defer to all knowledge that Petrino and company have. (As a lifelong Louisville resident, I hold a PhD in basketball knowledge, so no such grace is extended.) With that said, here is what I know. Bobby Petrino has got to find a way to secure these wins when they appear to be in hand. Up 8 with 7 minutes to play, you have to squeeze that victory. I don’t care how you are able to do it, it has to be done. We, as fans, have seen it on display at WVU, Rutgers, and on and on… To be a championship team, Petrino, Klenakis and Grantham, have to coach better. That said, the second half adjustments made by this staff were off the charts. To go from being on the verge of a blowout, to something that could likely be described as “Clemsoning” is an impressive feat. Overall, I would give the staff a C+.
While I said I would not “blame” the outcome of Saturday’s game on the officiating, and I won’t, I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the obvious shortcomings from the men in stripes on Saturday night. Starting with Lamar’s interception where the Louisville receiver was clearly tackled, through Hikutini’s obvious PI no call in the end zone, the stripes seemed to have a rough night determining when the receiver was contacted prior to the arrival of the pass. When you throw in the “chain gang” conspiracy, the missed choke-hold, and a phantom late hit call on the Louisville defense, you can make a conspiracy theory case that would have Oliver Stone’s attention. This game was not called perfectly, and in the end, Louisville has to overcome, but my grade for the officials is still a resounding D.
Going forward, this Louisville team still has a lot to play for. The season is far from over, and Clemson, while the better team on Saturday, does not have a guaranteed path to the Atlantic Division Championship, or the playoffs. All of that is out of Louisville’s control now, which is the most frustrating part of Saturday’s loss, but if Louisville can win out, there is literally no telling how this thing ends. My outlook on the season still hasn’t changed; 11-1. But as we all now clearly know, my prediction ability sucks. 🙂 Go Cards!!!