The 2015 Louisville Football season was preceded with a great deal of excitement and hype. The Cards had Auburn, they had Clemson at home, and UofL had a defense returning that was one of the best in the country. But the excitement of the season quickly shifted gears and 2015 became the “Season of Patience” and the patience of the coaches, the players, and the fans paid off quickly, thanks largely in part to a team terrific attitude.
The 0-3 Start
A trick play to start the season led to a true freshman mistake against Auburn in the Georgia Dome that set up the Tigers to take the lead and eventually control the game. Louisville & it’s unexpectedly heavy roster of YOUTH and absence of Jamari Staples due to injury took too long to settle down in its season opener. Also, many have forgotten that James Quick was thought to have been lost for the season vs. Auburn and didn’t not play vs. Houston or Clemson.
The Cards may have underestimated Houston & Greg Ward, Jr. but ultimately Louisville turned the ball over, allowed a kickoff for a TD, couldn’t contain Ward, and had a Field Goal blocked to tie the game. Louisville struggled in every phase of the game at some point vs. Houston and still had a chance to tie the game with under a minute to go against a team that went 12-1 and qualified for the New Year’s Six from the American Athletic Conference.
After 2 losses no team ever need a win more than Louisville. Unfortunately they were hosting Clemson (then eventual #1 team following the regular season) and Heisman Finalist Deshaun Watson. Still, the youthful Louisville gridiron gang were in the fight and a missed Field Goal and a desperation INT ended the hopes for the upset and the 1st win of the season for the Cards.
Bobby Petrino has referenced it many times, including immediately after the Clemson game saying that he was proud of his team’s attitude. That they never got down, continued to go through the process & routine of preparing to play each week.
Starting 0-3 is a foreign concept to a program that has won 40 games over the past 4 seasons and it would have been easy for players to get down on themselves or the coaching staff. Instead this group kept its proverbial nose to the grindstone and kept the program together.
Winning 7 of Last 9 in Regular Season
The Samford game couldn’t have come at a better time. UofL was able to finally get its first win. Then the Cards went on the road vs. NC State in a heavy rain and beat a veteran team. The enthusiasm for the road win where Louisville dominated defensively and started 3 freshman Offensive Lineman and a true freshman Quarterback was off the charts. Louisville was 2-3 and James Quick and Jamari Staples were both finally back to full speed.
Louisville led vs. Florida State at halftime and a disastrous series of plays in the 3rd quarter broke the game open for the Seminoles. Overall the game was a valuable learning lesson for this young club.
The Cards came home and won its next 4 ball games vs. Boston College, at Wake Forest, and vs. Syracuse & Virginia in consecutive weeks. Syracuse was an offensive explosion and during this time the Cards mixed and matched Quarterbacks routinely. The Cards were winning despite not having a settled identity offensively.
Louisville then had to finish off its season with 2 road games in a row and a disastrous 2nd Quarter vs. a solid/veteran ball club put the game against Pitt out of reach. A shaky start vs. Kentucky only set the stage for a breakout performance by Lamar Jackson in comeback fashion. Louisville had won 7 of its final 9 games to close the season and would make a bowl after a start that made the probability of going bowling unlikely.
Music City Magic
We’ve compared the 2015 season routinely to the 2011 Youth Movement that set the stage for an incredible run for Louisville Football (The Cards have won 40 games in 4 years, including 3 of 4 bowl games). Unlike the 2011 squad losing to a veteran NC State team in Charlotte, the 2015 Cards came to Nashville and rolled up 534 yards on the SEC West’s Texas A&M Aggies.
The 8-5 Cardinals may have started 0-3, but they finished 8-2. The only losses for the young Cards in the final 10 games of 2015 came at the hands of Florida State & Pittsburgh. The worst loss as it turned out was to Auburn in the first game of the season at the Georgia Dome. Houston (who Louisville travels to next year) beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Clemson will play for the National Championship in 9 days after winning the Orange Bowl. 5 losses, 3 were to New Year’s Six teams..two NY6 winners.
Lamar Jackson’s performance solidified his position as Louisville’s starting Quarterback moving forward. It’s a luxury that the program hasn’t enjoyed since Teddy Bridgewater returned in 2013 for his junior & final season. Lamar now goes into the off-season with a tremendous challenge….can he become a ‘Football Nerd’ like Bridgewater and elevate his game from his freshman to sophomore year like Teddy did from 2011 to 2012? Lamar’s athleticism is off the charts and he played much of the 2015 season on instinct……IMAGINE what the future may hold for him and Louisville if Jackson spends January-August as a true student of his craft.
Additionally the Youth Movement extends far beyond the QB spot where Kyle Bolin, Reggie Bonnafon, Jawon Pass and maybe Tylin Oden enter the fold. But the Offensive Line will see Geron Christian, Kenny Thomas, Lukayus McNeil, Kiola Mahoni, and Tobijah Hughley all return after starting the bowl game. Wide Receivers Jamari Staples, Jaylen Smith, James Quick, Traveon Samuel, Emonee Spence, Devante Peete, and Javonte Bagley all return. Tight Ends Cole Hikutini, Micky Crum, Keith Towbridge, and Charles Standberry all return. Running Backs Jeremy Smith, L.J. Scott, and Brandon Radcliff all return………………… And that’s just the offense.
Defensively we’ll wait to hear who might return for their senior season and who will enter the NFL Draft. The good news is that there are super talented young players who are eager to fill the void as we saw in bowl game when Stacy Thomas replaced James Burgess after his ejection, or when Jaire Alexander replaced an injured Shaq Wiggins. Either way Louisville has finished in the Top 25 defensively in each of the past 6 seasons .
The future of Louisville Football is bright after the “Season of Patience”. 2016 may not be entirely the “Season of Urgency” but it definitely is the off-season of the returning group’s lifetime. The profile of Cardinal Football is about to rise significantly. The moment is coming and CardNation has seen it before…..buckle up.