New England was a “couple big plays” away from winning. Arizona was “a couple big plays” away from winning. Florida was “a couple big plays” away from beating Ole Miss last year.
Whatever that debacle was that took place at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium last night was not “a couple big plays” away from a victory, and the fact that Steve Kragthorpe has infected the players with that notion is perhaps even more disheartening than the on-field shellacking that they took.
Where to start with this game? The inspiring 10-7 first half followed by the befuddling 28-0 second half? The 10 penalties for 98 yards? How about 3-15 on third down? Or the fact that for two games straight, Victor Anderson, the team’s one clear playmaker, was completely underutilized mounting only 51 yards on 12 carries? Take your pick, because they all add up to the worst showing by the Cards so far this year (and that’s a big “so far”).
Here’s where I’m going to start: Football 101. Lesson 1: having a clear game plan. This now makes three games in a row where we have either scored on our opening drive or at least marched down the field to get within the 10 yard line, only to look completely lost on offense in every single ensuing drive. The problem is clear: Steve Kragthorpe may, in fact, be a solid x’s and o’s offensive coordinator, but he falls apart on the fly. The fact is that our first 10 plays of every game are scripted, and for three games in a row they have generally worked out. The problem is that after those ten plays, the offense settles into a completely generic and mind-numbingly predictable series of plays. While the presence of Froman brought the number of plays up from 8 to about 10 last night, both those extra plays are apparently variations on a QB draw. When I heard during the offseason that Kragthorpe was trying to minimize the number of formations we had, I had no idea that he would be whittling them down to just three: Ace, I, and 3WR shotgun. Seriously, there were more formations in my middle school football team’s playbook.
Lesson 2: making use of your key players. I am absolutely dumbfounded at how Victor Anderson has rushed for less than 100, nay, less than 80, yards in the last two games… combined. Steve’s reasoning? He says that we get behind and abandon the run game to try to catch up. Yeah, because that’s exactly what you want to do when you’re trying to recover from a deficit: give up on your most successful plays and playmakers, and instead put it in the hands of your two quarterbacks who have combined to play less than 5 games at the FBS level. This isn’t freaking rocket science.
Lesson 3: getting your guys ready to play. Penalties continue to haunt this team, and there’s no explanation for why other than bad coaching discipline. A little research on rivals.com shows that during Kraghtorpe’s farewell tour at Tulsa, he once coached a game with over 120 penalty yards. Tulsa went on to win that game 27-3 or something like that, but things that worked in Conference USA don’t work in the Big East. Not sure what else to say here.
Lesson 4: reading the opposing team. Plain freaking logic will tell you that if you’ve been consistently beaten down field on a hitch route on the outside (which even the clueless announcer managed to spot), that you should probably either man up on the outside receiver with your fastest DB or at least drop back in Cover 3 to help seal up the edges and keep everything in front of you. Watching Raglin run to the middle of the field in Cover 2 when the ball was thrown to the sideline over Johnny Patrick to a tight end pretty much sums up the level of football IQ on the sidelines these days. And “they were supposed to check into a different coverage, and one guy did while the other didn’t” is not a valid excuse. Maybe the first time, but certainly not the second, third, or fourth times. Your job is to make sure the players know what they’re doing on every play. Additionally, I said it after the Indiana State game, but I’ll repeat it here: we are not good in man coverage, and the zone is played too deep, leaving the middle wide open play after play after play, and good teams like Cincinnati will tear up the secondary.
The good: We can clearly move the ball, at least once per game, when we stick to a solid game plan. Maybe that should be the first clue to not abandon that game plan when you’re losing by less than one touchdown. Adam Froman clearly has legs and can move, and he’s certainly got a bigger arm than Burke. I’m not convinced he’s any more accurate in the short game, but he’s solid. The defense has drives where they look really inspired and are all over the field. Darius Ashley showed that he deserves far more touches.
The bad: Froman looks like he has a tendency to just freeze and collapse under pressure. For such a mobile QB, every time he got pressure (which was often), he had a hard time rolling out of the pocket, and instead just went down. He also has a case of happy feet on third down, which is not good when you’re at 3rd and long like we nearly always are. To be honest, I think despite his mobility, he’s not as good at making plays with his feet as Burke. I think the defense has the same problem as the offense: a terrible coordinator with a play pamphlet, not a playbook. They always manage to play well in the first few drives of the game, but then the opposing offense figures them out and just moves the ball at will. It looks like we have issues with the shotgun snap; we clearly miss Eric Wood. Cory Goettsche had a slightly disappointing game.
The Kragtastic: 35-10. At home. On blackout night. To the fighting Wannstaches. Fuck you.
More in-depth Kragtastic: Penalties, Victor Anderson’s 12 carries for 51 yards, the awkward hand-offs, the just general cluelessness of the players on the field and the coaches on the sideline. Take your pick.
I’m honestly not sure whether I would prefer to see 8 more UK-style games or 8 more Pitt-style games, but I’m leaning toward the latter to save myself the depression. To sum up the year so far: they are who we thought they were, and it will be a long time before Louisville football returns to any semblance of its former self.