*UPDATE* Since publication of this article, AJ Dillon has been ruled out of today’s game.
That had to be rock bottom, right?
I hesitate to say that, because it seems every time I think we’ve reached the depths of ineptitude and misery, we seem to find a new low. I am not sure what to say about last week’s disaster that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll keep it brief. The defense looked unprepared, and the offense looked uninspired early. It felt as though we prepared for a different team, and if the comments coming from the coaching staff post-game were any indication, it certainly seems like we let FSU beat us twice. Georgia Tech rode us hard and put us away wet. I am not sure how much the team stood to gain from a film review session, except for maybe an additional serving of humble pie.
If you truly seek further commentary than that (you gluttons for punishment, you), refer to the Crunch Zone podcast or any and all sports radio segments from the last week. We’re on to Boston College.
KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Contain The Run – Notice I didn’t say “stop the run”, because I don’t think that is a realistic expectation against a good, physical offensive line and one of the best running backs in the country in AJ Dillon. However, containing the run is a key for this defense. Obviously Dillon’s health is a factor here, as he remains a game time decision. He missed last week’s game against NC State, but in five games this season, he has 652 yards and 6 TDs. Meanwhile, Louisville is fresh off surrendering 542 to the Georgia Tech option attack. BC’s attack is far more standard, running out of regular formations and using play action often, but they can be just as effective. Against GT, UofL seemed to play tentative and THINK too much, instead of firing off the ball. Reactions need to instinctual. The Cards have to fire off much faster, and play much more decisive football if they expect to slow the Eagles ground attack on Saturday.
If Dillon can’t go, converted receiver Ben Glines will receive the bulk of the carries. He has been very effective so far this season, averaging 5.4 ypc. Glines has totaled 210 yards rushing the last two games as the primary back. Anthony Brown has shown real improvement at QB for the Eagles, and can hurt you through the air if you let him, but the BC attack starts and stops with the running game. Regardless of who lines up at RB, the Cards front has their work cut out for them.
2. Start Fast – This has been a key for pretty up every game this season, but it feels especially relevant this week. Last Friday, we saw what can happen when you allow an effective rushing attack gets an early lead. Granted, Louisville never stopped Tech from scoring, so I’m not sure this had that much effect on the final score. This week should be different. If the Cards can come out and set the tone on offense and get a few stops on defense, they may be able to get BC out of their comfort zone. But, if they come out flat (as is typical of this year’s team), the Eagles could bury the Cards early.
3. Continue the Youth Movement – Freshmen Hassan Hall and Tutu Atwell have emerged as bona fide offensive weapons for the Cards. Hall looks to have very good instincts as a runner, and is able to see the hole and find lanes when there isn’t much there, an important trait on a team with a struggling offensive line. Tutu seemed to be building towards a big game, and didn’t disappoint on Friday night. He caught four balls for 79 yards and 2 TDs, with his speed and ability to separate from defenders clearly on display. More reps and touches for the young bucks will be key to this season and next, as nothing can simulate game speed. Jawon Pass took another step forward, making some big league throws and taking care of the football on his way to 299 yards and 2 TDs. While he is clearly the starter, I hope Petrino looks to get Jordan Travis some more late game action this season, if the opportunity presents itself (he can play in two more games without burning his redshirt). He made some great plays and a few bad ones (in short, he looked like a freshman), but he is clearly talented.
4. Establish the Run – I know this should go without saying, but Louisville has to figure out a way to carve out some rushing yards with their backs. The Cards’ running backs only had 14 carries vs. GT, and JORDAN TRAVIS was the leading rusher. Our backup, true freshman QB, who played the last few series of the game, was our leading rusher. Granted, some of this was a result of the game flow. GT led 21-0 after the 1st quarter, and the Cards were playing catch-up from the opening kick. But this has been a disturbing trend during Bobby Petrino’s second stint. In 2017, we seldom gave the ball to our backs more than ten times in a half. This was partially a natural byproduct of the Lamar Jackson era, partially because of a lack of RB depth, and partially a result of Bobby’s over-reliance on Lamar. But this season, there is no excuse. Establish the run early, get your offensive line engaged, and find your feature back (not necessarily for the season, but your stud for the game). We have to establish a rhythm and take some of the pressure off of Jawon. BC’s defense, surprisingly, doesn’t do anything particularly well. They rank 87th in total defense, 78th against the pass, and most importantly, 84th against the run. In order to win, the Cardinal backs need to eat.
5. Where is my LINE??? – I know I am a broken record. I KNOW this. But the failures along the offensive line this season have been both baffling and disheartening. I’ve seen most of these players perform at a high level in the past, but this year there is no aggression, no first step, no initial punch, lazy and/or passive technique, and seemingly a lack of communication along the line. It all adds up to ineffective line play. There are countless plays where it seems they look lost in protection. And we haven’t seen a game where they simply moved the line of scrimmage all season.
Much like the rest of the team, I feel like the root of the problem runs deep. There are basic coaching and technique shortfalls, to the point it makes me think it’s all mental. And I am not entirely sure it’s fixable this season. Mike Summers has been an effective O-Line mentor for most of his career, and he didn’t forget how to coach overnight. I often say the line is a team within the team, and much like the team at large, opportunities to right this ship are running out. As I mentioned earlier, BC’s defense doesn’t do anything particularly well. There is talent on the field, but UofL’s offense should be able to consistently move the ball. It starts up front.
WHO/WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
– The sideline. Unfortunately this has been a bit of a theme this season. With the disappointment growing and the losses piling up, it’s hard not to wonder whether this team has checked out. It certainly felt that way on Friday. Beyond that, the outside noise about the coaching staff and the future of the program has to have the coaches on the sideline on edge as well. It takes a bought in team and a staff adept at focusing the players and shutting out the noise to thrive under these circumstances, and I’m not sure they’re equipped.
– Puma. Jawon Pass has steadily improved over the last few weeks. He looked more settled in the pocket last week, but still tends to have happy feet. I’m looking for another forward step in his development vs. BC.
– Tutu. I don’t blame a kid with Olympic speed for being confident in his own abilities, but it feels like the whole team should have learned their lesson post-Bama about talking a big game. I’ve never been the biggest fan of talk, I’m a big proponent of action. And if you’re on a 2-4 football team whose only two wins are against Indiana State and a bad WKU team (barely), the best policy might be to let your talented legs do the talking for you.
– Robert Hicks. Maybe the only positive thing to talk about defensively after the GT debacle. He made several solid plays, and has proven all year that he belongs on the field. He has a VERY bright future.
– Turnover Belt & Touchdown Gloves. Muhammad Ali is by far my favorite athlete, and one of my favorite people of all time. His love for our mutual hometown and his affiliation with my school are things of which I am very proud. But when I heard about the gloves and belt, I worried about times like these. As cool and unique as the concept is, you want these prestigious items to be earned. When you’re down by 5 TDs to Georgia Tech, it can’t help but feel a little wrong to see the players dancing around wearing the Champ’s gloves. I am far from a “Get off my lawn” guy, and I want these players to have fun. But I can’t help but feel it cheapens the prestige.
– Boston College’s level of engagement. I don’t’ expect a Steve Addazio team to sleep walk through anything, but the Eagles are coming off a disappointing loss to NC State, and after the Bye week, face Miami, a road game at Virginia Tech, Clemson, a road game at FSU, and Syracuse. Louisville would appear to be the easiest game left on that schedule by a fair amount. I never thought I would say these words, but let’s hope Boston College is caught looking past Louisville this week.
– Bourbon. I’m gonna watch the bourbon drain from my glass.
I want to say this will be a hard fought game, decided on the final possession, but I just don’t see it happening. At some point, you have to believe what your eyes are telling you. It pains me to say it, but what this team has shown us to this point is what this team will be this year, barring significant changes. BC is physical on offense, and UofL is in a vulnerable place right now. We should be able to move the ball on the Eagles, but not enough to keep up with their offense. The final score will vary based on whether AJ Dillon plays or not, but I don’t think the outcome will differ.
Louisville 24, Boston College 41
Per usual, I hope I am wrong. Go Cards.