Saturday was Louisville’s 1st loss in September since Teddy Bridgewater’s Freshman year (2011) vs. Florida International, a 24-17 loss to begin Year 2 of the Charlie Strong era. The Cards had won 12 consecutive September games, but now where do the Cards go from here?
First of all, there was never a thought of undefeated for this team. Louisville Football has had special seasons in the past, but the Cards haven’t been unbeaten since 1947 (7-0-1) and haven’t won all of the games on the schedule since 1925 (8-0). Football is a tough game, it is as mental as it is physical and after losing to Virginia on the road the Cards were beaten up mentally.
Perhaps the biggest problem on the field vs. Virginia is that Louisville tried to deftly use its skill to win a street fight. The Cards offensively did not meet Virginia’s toughness. Take for example the halftime scuffle, UVA’s biggest bullies of the game 6’5, 240 lbs Max Valles and 6’0 185 Brandon Phelps took exception James Quick 6’1, 182 and cornered Quick against the stadium wall. Virginia was trying to bully Louisville, who came to Quick’s aid? Nick Dawson-Brents……a defensive player.
Meanwhile Virginia’s entire bench stormed across the field and a handful of Louisville players eventually found their way over to the tunnel. Many Louisville Football players simply meandered into the halftime tunnel. Watch the tape below.
But the good news is that Saturday’s loss wasn’t a divisional game, Louisville still must play every every opponent in the ACC Atlantic Division and controls its own destiny to reach the ACC Championship. Last season Auburn suffered its only loss of the season by 14 on the road. Maybe UVA isn’t LSU, but that Cavalier defense (like we told you prior to the game) has some serious NFL talent and will at least give Virginia a chance to win while Mike London tries to find answers on offense.
The bad news is that Louisville has Clemson & Florida State (among others) also in the ACC Atlantic and must certainly solve some key football issues before starting divisional play.
About those issues: It’s going to be MORE than just getting DeVante Parker and Michael Dyer back on offense. Having players of that caliber will help the Cards break some plays, but there must be wholesale improvement in key areas if the Cards hope to contend in the ACC Atlantic.
1) Louisville’s Special Teams MUST get better. The Cards have made some impressive returns this season, but they’ve also had some seriously boneheaded decisions, the Quick/Harris fumble that ultimately dug the Cards final hole vs. Virginia notwithstanding. But strange fair catch decisions, the decision to not field certain kicks. Inconsistent punting. In order to WIN FIELD POSITION the Cards must make better decisions in special teams. The average starting field position was horrendous vs. Virginia and there are examples vs. Miami where Louisville made life difficult for themselves on Special Teams.
2) Stop turning the ball over. Simple. OR. Stop turning the ball over inside the Cardinal 30 yard line. Louisville has 6 turnovers on the season. SIX (91st). 5 of those 6 turnovers happened inside the Louisville 30-yard line and all SIX have occurred inside Louisville’s own 40. Easy Money. The Louisville loss on Saturday to Virginia wasn’t just due to 4 turnovers….but it was also WHERE those turnovers occurred (all in Louisville territory). UofL forced 3 turnovers vs. Virginia and gained ZERO points and none of the turnovers were gained in Virginia territory. Conversely to Virginia whose 3 turnovers also happened in Louisville territory….no short fields for the Cards.
Also for reference, Louisville has 6 turnovers in 3 games and is on pace for 26 turnovers in 2014….the Cards had just 10 (1st) turnovers all of 2013.
3) The Offensive Line must find the right mix. Virginia’s Defensive Line was just the beginning and while the UVA defensive front is an excellent unit, the Cards have better on the schedule. So UofL needs to figure some things out. 7 batted balls at the Line of Scrimmage. SEVEN. Two batted balls at the LOS is too many in a single game. The Louisville line needs to remain engaged throughout, must clear the passing lanes, and must punish defenders when they leave their feet. Protection needs to improve, communication needs to improve, and maybe personnel needs to be changed….or at least tried. Do the Coaches try Jake Smith at Center and push Acosta, Sibiea, or Lacy in? Or do they move Ryan Mack in to Guard and try Kelby Johnson at Tackle……just spit balling here we aren’t at practice every day. In the end the UofL Offensive Line can not sink in the same places every snap….it should PUSH the point of attack.
4) Quarterback: Improvement in the previous 3 areas are all designed to help the offense. Louisville’s offense is the question mark on this team and starting field position and better offensive line play will help any quarterback. Fans have screamed for Reggie Bonnafon to replace Will Gardner.
Clearly Will Gardner was overwhelmed by the UVA pressure and coverage. Will needed to reset and I do wonder what could have happened had Bonnafon taken a series in the 2nd quarter and allowed Gardner to settle down going into halftime and having Will returning to begin the 3rd quarter. I personally believe that Will Gardner should get props for re-grouping and leading the comeback in the 4th quarter.
Was Gardner perfect in the 4th quarter? Absolutely not. Gardner should have had 2 more INTs in the final period (for a total of 4 in the game) but one was dropped and one was negated by penalty. Still Will put points on the board when it mattered. Gardner’s decision making and eye movement MUST get better. Will locked into his first read too often and too long against Virginia and failed to see the linebacker several times. The balls batted down also shouldn’t happen that often with a 6’5 quarterback, some of that is the offensive line, some of it is Will.
Bonnafon had his chances in the 3rd quarter: 3 series that started on the 25, 1, and 25-yard lines. Two normal starts and one tough start. The result was 3 “THREE AND OUTS” and minus -3 Total Yards in three series. Minus 3. Reggie was 3-5 for 5 yards, and -1 yard rushing (sack).
But maybe the question of who the starting quarterback shouldn’t be measured by stats. With the way the Louisville Defense is playing, maybe the Quarterback who protects the football is the answer. Thus far in 2014 Will Gardner has been credited with 5 of Louisville’s 6 turnovers. That is a question for the coaches, but this question isn’t going to stop unless one player really separates, protects the football, leads the offense, and makes plays. For Will Gardner that may be a matter of find away to remain poised, for Reggie Bonnafon that may be a matter of just time and experience. Either way, there is a Quarterback competition that will last 2014 and will carry on into Fall Camp of 2015 unless someone steps up and gives the coaching staff a reason to stop looking for an answer.
5) Must continue to play good defense. Louisville’s Defense is the story of 2014. Todd Grantham has done a great job with these players of getting them ready and adjusted to his system. It fits. There have been some big plays and those happen in football, they are even expected when a major change happens. If Louisville keeps playing good defense the Cards will have chances to win games, like Saturday.
I liked the way Trumaine Washington played in replacement of Andrew Johnson who really didn’t have his best day against Virginia. Recently Coach Petrino pointed out the improvement of Chucky Williams at Safety and I can’t help but wonder if rotating Chucky into the mix at Safety could present an opportunity to move Terrel Floyd back to corner.
Speaking of corners, teams are avoiding throwing to Charles Gaines’ side like the plague. But teams are more than willing to try and get the edge to Gaines’ side of the field. Louisville needs to do a better job of containing the edge on Gaines side as Virginia really made an emphasis to run to his side.
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