I have almost--ALMOST-- nothing positive to say about the University of Louisville’s performance against Houston, so if you’re looking for someone to put lipstick on a pig you probably clicked the wrong link because that’s not what I’m about. I’m here to tell it like it is, or at least how I see it. The lone caveat I will give before I begin to summarize the train-wreck I witnessed this afternoon inside of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is that I’m confident Louisville can play much better by simply eliminating mistakes and penalties.
With that said, I’ll do my best to sum it up. Sometimes you’re wrong, sometimes you’re right, and sometimes it’s a little of both. In my game preview I said I didn’t think Houston’s Greg Ward would have as much success through the air as he did in his first game of 2015 against Tennessee Tech. The WR convert didn’t hit the 275 yard mark like last week, but he found the end zone through the air on three occasions, twice in the fourth quarter, including the game winner. He also made plays with his legs all afternoon to the tune of 98 yards.
I also said that I would not pick Louisville to cover the 13 point spread and noted that after three consecutive years of pulling my hair out I still don’t trust the offensive line to turn in consistent performances. Louisville rushed for 70 total yards. That’s… not good, people. It has become demoralizing. If seeing defensive linemen get free runs into our backfield every third play isn't enough to make you crazy, drive killing penalties at the worst possible moments will. It was a problem in Charlie Strong’s last season and it has lingered.
Another reason why I wouldn’t have touched that line was because you never know how a true freshmen QB is going to respond in his first home start. Jackson turned the ball over three times and looked bad doing it. The interceptions weren’t the result of tipped passes or trying to fit the ball into tight windows. No, they were high fly balls that defenders settled under almost like a baseball outfielder snagging a “can of corn.” At halftime I told the guy I was sitting next to that Bobby would pull Jackson if he didn’t get it going. That’s exactly what Petrino did at the start of the fourth quarter.
To be clear, this loss isn’t all on Jackson, not even close, and that’s the worrisome part if you’re a
Louisville fan. It’s a given that a true Freshmen QB is going to make mistakes. Still, if you think he’s the future of your program and you don’t have better option you let him take his lumps within the bounds of reason. The problem was that Bobby let Lamar take a few too many lumps. I know I’m arm-chair coaching here but the offense looked pretty bad through three quarters, then, magically, looked like a Bobby Petrino offense when Kyle Bolin came in and started throwing strikes downfield.
The other side of the offensive equation from this game is that the running game was virtually non-existent through three quarters. Houston loaded up the box and dared Lamar to beat them from the pocket. The zone-read was largely ineffective, spare a few plays here and there, and we all know what happened when Lamar went to the air. Against Auburn’s ginormous front seven the run game was more effective with the zone-read keeping them off balance; but, against Houston’s smaller front the holes were there with a more traditional/ straight-ahead/ mano y mano approach. Even with all the issues I just laid out the offense managed to put 31 points on the board. Which begs the question, where was the defense? I mean, you gave up 31 to Auburn and the Gus Bus, but 34 to Houston?
In actuality the defense gave up 27 and special teams gave up the other 7. Still, 27 to Houston and they gave up the lead twice in the 4th quarter. The obvious issues on defense were the 257 missed tackles and receivers running wide open down the field. However, there was something else awry in that stadium and I’m not talking about the bad pepperoni from your $9 mini-pizza. I counted at least four plays when Houston lined up three receivers very wide to one side of the field and Louisville only had two defenders to cover them. On three of those occasions someone noticed and waived an additional defender into the area. Unfortunately this schematic hiccup went unnoticed on a crucial 4th down the Cougars converted with an easy pitch to a player with as many blockers in front of him as there were defenders. Todd Grantham is a $1.4Million/ year defensive coordinator, in case you were wondering. That’s Kirby Smart and Bud Foster money, kids.
If you’re a Louisville fan you can’t feel good right now. You’ve played three QBs, your offensive line still doesn’t look very good, and the unit everyone thought would be a strong point suddenly has you scratching your head. On top of all that you’re 0-2 with Clemson coming to town on Thursday. Yikes, a lot. I can tell you this, don’t buy into the talk you will inevitably read and hear about how Houston is a “pretty good team.” Don’t do it. They might very well be the class of the American Athletic Conference but if that game was indicative of the best Louisville can manage, then Louisville is capable of losing to every team on the schedule, spare Samford.
Fortunately for you, if you’re a Louisville fan, their effort against Houston was so bad in all three phases that there is a very slim chance it’s the best the Cards can manage. Why do I say that? Cause it was bad, really bad. At this point the question for me is: How long will it take this team to remedy those mistakes and execute at a high level? Only time will tell, but we’re going to get a chance to see how much improvement they can make over four days come Thursday night.