Prior to his inaugural season, Charlie Strong made a not-so-elegant promise to the fanbase at a Cardinal Caravan event:
"We're going to play our balls off."
Strong has referenced the lack of passion exerted from this year's team on several occasions. The uninspired performance at home against Marshall drew fiery criticism from the man in charge. As the offensive woes became more apparent, and as rumors of internal coaching strife emerged, I started to become increasingly worried (nauseous) about the remaining amount of passion left in the Cardinal bucket.
The penalties, the missed field goals, and a few significant officiating lapses were enough to send a man straight to a couple of post-game sadness naps. And there's absolutely nothing worse than a postgame sadness nap -- Morehead State put me down for about seventy-two hours. Nonetheless, a bit a reflection leads me to notice a consistent lack of gonads this Cardinal team.
And that’s not a bad thing. Those gonads I was talking about? They were there before each kickoff, but they were gone by the end of each of the past three games. That’s because Charlie Strong’s team is now playing its collective balls off.
Drive-murdering penalties aside, Louisville has played their balls off since the Marshall loss. In the process of losing said gonads, we’ve seen a few glimpses of Charlie's oft-repeated mantra of "just go out and make a play."
Before his career-ending injury on Friday night, we saw Anthony Conner make textbook open field tackles in each of the previous games, when the team needed them the most. We also saw him punch the ball out of the hands of the UNC running back as he was going down. Charlie Strong has asked the team time and time again to just go out and make some plays, and Conner was absolutely personifying the sentiment.
Where that sentiment started is debatable, but without a doubt, it is infectious:
We saw Marcus Smith making three big sacks to help stymie North Carolina's offense. The following week, he and the defensive line came up big again as Louisville held a Cincinnati offense averaging over 45 points per game to a season low of 25. We saw Dexter Heyman reaping the fruits of the labor of film study, as he jumped a route in the Rutgers game to make the game-saving interception.
On offense, we saw the Reverend
Jeremiah Jeremy Wright become the fiery runner we knew he could be, as he swiftly hit the holes behind an embattled offensive line that is slowly rising to the occasion. Young receivers Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris are consistently stepping up when called upon. And of course we saw Teddy Bridgewater gracefully evading defensemen like he was the Lord of the Wu Tang.
There's a lot to like. There's also a lot to sugar coat. And like a bowl of your favorite childhood high-calorie breakfast cereal, we must approach the sweetness with caution. Gonads don’t always offset strife, and the Cardinal football team is still experiencing strife. Louisville hasn’t won back-to-back Big East games in five years. If we're to expect a change in culture, its time for that to change.
How much ball-fuel does this team have left? Do the Cards have the gonads to overcome strife? Based on the small strides we've seen in the past three weeks, I'd like to think so.