I'm sitting here a day later and I still have absolutely no idea what to write about what I witnessed Saturday afternoon, so this will pretty much be a stream of consciousness...or vigor I suppose.
Somebody asked me last week how I felt about the growing "fire Kragthorpe" movement, and I half-jokingly said that if this guy can invent a way to lose to Syracuse then I'll be all for it. Now I'm not for firing a coach before the end of his first season, and I'm not going to let this site become one where we focus on how much we dislike the head coach more than we do supporting the team, but my God, name ONE positive thing this guy has accomplished since Aug. 30.
In four weeks we've seen the least impressive 63-point win in football history, one of the worst offensive teams in the country hang 42 points and over 550 yards of offense on us at home, our first loss to Kentucky in five years, and our 20-game home winning streak (second longest in the country) snapped by the worst BCS conference team in Division I-A.
I said last week that if this game was close, or if they scored more than two offensive touchdowns then we were in trouble. I'm still struggling to come to terms with what actually losing the game means.
Don't make any mistake about it, Syracuse is awful. They have Buffalo and Miami of Ohio on the schedule so they might win three games, but anything more than that would be a mild shock. We made a team that ranked 117 in rushing offense, 116 in total offense, 114 in rush defense, 101 in total defense, 98 in pass defense and 97 in pass offense, look like the '94 49ers...in our stadium.
I'm hearing some people say that we should be praising the team for almost pulling off a miracle comeback, which is totally absurd. If it weren't for a fumbled snap and a botched hand-off (yes, this is the team that beat us) in the fourth quarter, then we lose 52-21. That's right, what very well may be (in terms of point spread) the biggest upset in the history of college football could have very easily been a 31-point blowout.
We're not relying on freshmen here, so how can the same guys who were taking a victory lap around Dolphins Stadium in January have gone from Orange glory to Orange humiliation in the matter of a mere eight months?
Surely you're not still thinking about this.
I can't imagine there being another reasonably eligible head coach on this planet who could have done a worse job thus far than Steve Kragthorpe. There isn't a sole alive who could convince me that Bob Beatty, Mike Glaser or Bob Redman wouldn't have guided this team to at least a 3-1 record at this point.
I have never been more proud of our fan base than I was on Saturday when I saw PJCS packed with encouraging fans ready to support their team like a national championship was still a possibility. A week after having to see a hideously embarrassing blown coverage shown over and over and over on national television, the fans still showed up, and on the first play of the game Syracuse had a receiver run down the middle field and catch a pass without a defender in the same hemisphere.
I will never, ever boo a Louisville team or coach, but for the first time in my life I found myself feeling glad that other people were.
After the debacles of the last couple of weeks I thought that Kragthorpe was just another boring guy who spoke in cliches after games because he thought it was the right PR move, but now I'm starting to give credence to the belief that this guy doesn't say much because he has absolutely no idea how to fix this thing. Petrino and Smith (who I'm told predicted a five-loss season after taking in a few practices this summer) could always break down exactly what had transpired on the field during their post-game pressers. Kragthorpe says absolutely nothing of any substance, and his on-the-field product is proving week-by-week that it's because he can't, rather than because he won't.
What's worse is that he's becoming a walking contradiction. He says for four months that he doesn't discuss non-season ending injuries, and then he hold a conference call with the media on Sunday and says that Harry Douglas will be ready to play this weekend against NC State.
But that was far from the most hypocritical statement to come out of Kragthorpe's mouth.
When asked about the reassurance Tom Jurich has given him in the past 24 hours, Mr. "I'm the captain and whatever happens falls on me" had the following to say: "I have a lot of confidence in Tom and I know that he has confidence in me. I've been around long enough to know what I was getting myself into. What I didn't know was our relative lack of depth and inexperience on the defensive side of the ball and how that might play a factor early in the year."
So it was the lack of depth on defense that made the decision to go for it on 4th and 10 instead of allowing the best kicker in the country to attempt a 45-yard field goal (don't know if you noticed the final margin of defeat)? It was the lack of depth on defense that called a 3rd and long draw play with the clock ticking under two minutes in a two-possession game? It was the lack of depth on defense that inexplicably made the decision to change the entire defensive philosophy that had resulted in 44 sacks a year ago and a top three run defense in each of the past three seasons?
The fact of the matter is that because of injuries every single defensive lineman on the two-deep is experienced and had been effective before this season. Those three linebackers? The same three that started the West Virginia game a year ago (not sure if you caught it, but we beat the No. 3 team in the country), and a trio that was called the best in the country by none other than Mel Kiper just two months ago. I'm not going to blatantly lie and say that our secondary has ever been stellar, but with the experience of Council, Russell, Thomas and Buchanan along with a five-star recruit like Brandon Heath and a JuCo transfer like Woodny Turenne who had scholarship offers from everyone in the world including the current No. 1 team in the country, there's no reason for every Saturday (or Thursday) to be the '03 GMAC Bowl. That feeble excuse (and that's exactly what it is) simply does not hold any weight.
You're hearing a lot of people saying that the resentment coming from the mouths of Louisville fans is the result of a spoiled fan base. I'm not spoiled, I'm scared shitless, because if we can't beat Syracuse with these guys then who the hell can we beat?
It's not likely to beat out "at least we're not Notre Dame" in the category of overly used, mildly humorous college football affirmations anytime soon, but on two different Pitt message boards/comment threads I saw "we could have Kragthorpe as a coach." It's impressive really, it took this guy just four weeks to overtake Greg Robinson (obviously) and Dave Wannstedt as the easiest coach in the Big East to laugh at.
I noticed something when Brian Brohm (who I played with in high school and know wouldn't talk negatively about a coach who had just stabbed him in the right arm) was being interviewed after the August scrimmage, but didn't say anything for fear that I was reading into it too much. If you watch the video and skip to about the 33 second mark, you'll hear Brian start to talk about how coach K doesn't say much during the scrimmages. For the briefest of moments he hints at his discomfort when he says "he told us he was just going to sit back and evaluate, and uh, it seems like he does that a lot." He then catches himself and his tone changes noticeably as he talks about how Krags watches and always "knows what everyone's doing."
A month later the camera zooms in on the guy who turned down millions to try and bring a national title to his hometown ala Darrell Griffith. About to lose on his home field for the first time in four years, and about to drop the Big East opener of the season he's spent his whole life preparing for, Brohm turns to a teammate and very obviously says, "This sucks."
It does suck. It sucks that Harry Douglas (God love him) has to stand on a table and give a fiery speech at halftime of a home game against Syracuse. It sucks that Rod Council is constantly trying to fire up the rest of his defense on the sidelines and gets absolutely no reaction. And it really sucks that after the fourth game of the season we're hearing Brohm say things like this: "We've got to have more of a sense of urgency out there. Maybe we've got to have that in practice." And we're hearing Eric Wood say things like this: "I don't think we prepared well enough for the game. Maybe we weren't ready to play this game. But the same kinds of mistakes seem to happen in every game."
Wood's right. If nothing else, the last two weeks have proven that the negatives of the first two weeks were anything but anomalies. We saw inexcusable penalty after inexcusable penalty, again. We saw the middle of the field consistently wide open, again. We saw no pressure on the opposing quarterback, again. We saw our head coach talking on his headset and ignoring his players, again. We saw one of our players flicking off the crowd, again.
I can't spin this anymore, this is every bit as awful as it looks and as it feels. I'm generally a pretty positive person, but there's absolutely nothing I can pull out of my ass right now to make any of us feel better. I'm still going to watch every week and cheer like hell for our guys, but it sure seems to me like we're witnessing ten years of awe-inspiring hard work being ripped apart block-by-block.
Even if this team does improve, beats USF, WVU or Rutgers, goes to the PapaJohns.com bowl and humiliates the runner-up from the MAC, are we supposed to be excited about 2008? This was supposed to be the season, and one month in it's already an abomination.
Sure Petrino's teams lost, and every single time they did I felt awful afterwards. When Mike Williams caught the ball on a simple slant route and carried it into the endzone to make the game 38-21, I felt absolutely nothing, and that's the scariest part for me. I hate feeling like I care about a game more than the players or the coaches, it makes me feel pathetic, so I stopped. And I remember vividly the last time I felt like that. It was Oct. 11, 1997, we were being absolutely throttled by Tulane and I found myself hoping they would run up the score so the chances of Ron Cooper being fired at the end of the season would be improved. It was horrible, and I hoped we'd get someone new so that I'd never have to feel that way again.
The quarter-full stadium, the dysfunction on the sidelines, the apathetic players, the loss to an extremely less-talented team. It was 1997 inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday.
Almost one year ago to the day, I wrote that the city of Louisville had committed adultery, trading the symmetrical ball for the oblong one. I think it's safe to say that we've returned home with our tails tucked between our legs and two dozen roses in our right hand. It's going to take something fiercely sexy to get us to even turn our heads again.
Look I think it's fairly obvious that I could go on and on here, but all I'd be doing was finding new ways to make the same point, which is this: It's bad, and it shouldn't be. It's been that way for a month now, but for the first time I'm convinced that it's not going to get much better.