Friday night was an earned moment for Louisville football fans.
The embarrassing losses of the past five seasons, the depressing walks out of the stadium, the constant ribbings from rival fans, the steady talk of a once promising program imploding; it all felt worth it on this night.
The use of rain to signify the "washing away" of a past life or some other self-metamorphosis is one of my least favorite cinematic or literary clichés, but I'll let it slide if anyone wants to utilize it when talking about the win over Cincinnati. For a number of reasons, the cold and the wet almost made the evening feel more right.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Friday night was the best it's felt being a diehard Cardinal football fan in a long, long time. That's something that can't be taken away.
I'm far from the first one to say this since the end of the game, but I'm going to say it anyway: Teddy Bridgewater is better than Munchie Legaux.
I'm attributing Ted's far-too-human 9-of-22 start to the fact that he was forced to go sans glove. Still, that throw he made to Pooda on U of L's first scoring drive was as perfect as any ball he's thrown all season. But it was the second half where Teddy did the bulk of his damage, again putting the team on his back and eventually eclipsing the 400-yard mark for the first time in his Cardinal career.
We can talk stats for hours at a time, but the ultimate litmus test for Bridgewater's current greatness, I think, is the fact that I (like many of you, I would guess) have never felt as confident in situations where Louisville HAS to produce as I do right now with No. 5 guiding the offense.
Part of that is because of the maturity Bridgewater showcases off the field. He had to have known that he was going to be asked about Munchie Lgaux's pregame comments after the win, and he handled a difficult situation about as well as possible.
Check out the quotes:
"I let my play on the field do my talking. I'm not the type of guy to talk through the media."
"I'm not one of those guys who talks or pays attention to it. It just added fuel to the fire. I was practicing with a chip on my shoulder."
"The W says it all."
Anytime someone else steps out and publicly says he's better than you, it's going to rub you the wrong way. Teddy did the perfect job of addressing the situation in a mature fashion, but still didn't cop out by saying "I'm not going to comment on that" or something similar.
All the right moves off the field, and all the big throws on it. There's a reason Louisville fans haven't felt this confident about a quarterback in a long while.
Predictably, Friday was the worst attempt at a whiteout in the history of sports (not going to put any of the blame on U of L fans for that), but, with the exception of it being disappointingly thin (again) at the beginning of the third quarter, the fans were still fantastic. Given the elements, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of butts in seats for the opening kickoff, and then really proud of the atmosphere at key moments during the fourth quarter.
For the bulk of the game it seemed like the Cincinnati sideline was far more animated than the home team, which was really disappointing. Credit the fans for inspiring the Cards to finally match that energy when the game - and U of L's undefeated season - was on the line.
Aside from Calvin Pryor's tweet on Thursday night that included "we're coming for you MUNCHIE," the Louisville football team was extremely silent leading up to this game. They were not silent after it.
A number of Cardinals tweeted about how happy they were with the win and chose to give Mr. Legaux a special dedication in their victory tweets. It was pretty clear that everyone on the team had been made aware of Munchie's declaration.
The staff sees what's being said by coaches, players, media and fans in the days (or weeks) leading up to a game, and if there's something out there that can serve as motivation for their team, they're going to use it.
Always watching. Stronglluminati.
I wasn't lucky enough to attend the Miami game in 2006, so I didn't get to experience the stadium explode when Brian Brohm hit Mario Urrutia for the Cards' first score. That being the case, I'm not sure I've heard a PJCS crowd get as loud as they did on DeVante Parker's go-ahead touchdown. After he made the first guy miss, everyone in the stadium went ballistic as he made his towards the endzone.
I'm going to safely say it was my biggest personal explosion since the Siva game-tying three in the Final Four.
It was awesome.
With the enthusiasm over Parker's touchdown still permeating throughout the stadium, John Wallace's succeeding touchback drew the loudest ovation of any kickoff in PJCS history. There really were so many great moments that I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to address them all.
After the go-ahead touchdown in the 4th, I really, really wanted Munchie to throw a pick to end the game. He responded with a touchdown pass (naturally), but I still sort of got my wish in overtime.
Speaking of that, the overtime interception was one of the more bizarre plays of the game, as both teams sort of acted like it was a hail mary situation where Cincinnati had to have a touchdown to win. Munchie blindly launched the ball up for grabs into the endzone and then our defense celebrated the pick like it had just swatted down a desperation heave at the end of the first half. Kind of weird.
Also, and I really and truly believe this, I'm almost 100% sure that Terrell Floyd having a hairstyle similar to Stephan Robinson's is the reason Munchie threw that pass. You know UC saw the tape of South Florida scoring on a pair of jump balls in the corner over Robinson, and I'm convinced that Legaux saw the hair on the cornerback and didn't look to see that it was No. 19 and not No. 12 covering Travis Kelce.
Our seats give us just about a perfect vantage point of the field when teams are driving toward the Crunch Zone, and I feel like I've become an expert on being able to tell when a pass is going to hit a wide receiver approximately .5 seconds after it's left the quarterback's hand. I've become extremely big on the premature "nope" or "got him" in recent years, which I'm sure annoys everyone around me but still probably isn't going to stop anytime soon.
Anyway, all of this is a lead up to me saying I thought there was no chance Damian Copeland was going to be able to run down that Teddy Bridgewater bomb in the 4th quarter. It looked like it was at least a five yard overthrow, and then the Mustard turned on the jets and made SportsCenter's No. 3 play of the day.
Check out this alternate view of the play from Wes Napper, whose video gives a little bit of an indication of how loud it got after the catch was made. Also I love Teddy's lack of a reaction.
It was hilarious to hear Copeland say after the game that now everyone is saying when the team has the ball in or near its own endzone that it's "Honey Mustard Time."
I no longer observe "Eastern Standard Time." As of today I live in the Honey Mustard Time Zone.
The weirdest moment of the game came after UC's touchdown to tie the score at 31, when Louisville came out preparing to field an onside kick. I don't know if Kenny Carter or someone else on the staff thought U of L was winning or what, but it was really bizarre. The Cards hustled their regular return team onto the field just in time to be set for the kickoff, which was then bobbled by Senorise Perry and only brought out to the 14-yard line.
Cincinnati native Preston Brown said all the right things in the days leading up to Friday's game, but he couldn't help himself when asked about Munchie Legaux after the win Friday night.
"He's a little careless with the ball, unlike Teddy," Brown said. "So we see who is better now."
Big East Defensive Players of the Week are allowed to say those types of things. Another big time effort from Preston, who also celebrated his 20th birthday over the weekend.
I haven't been able to watch the full replay of the game, but I did catch the sequence following DeVante Parker's first touchdown catch, and Rod Gilmore's insistance that it wasn't a touchdown is just baffling. I mean the evidence was clearly presented directly in front of his face multiple times.
People who are on television are wrong sometimes too, Rod. Check your ego, my man.
Our special teams are still atrocious. I paid special attention to kickoff coverage during the game, and it was remarkable how much faster Cincinnati's guys got down the field to meet our return men than our players did when the roles were reversed. I don't know if it's lack of hang time from our kickers, that strange bunch formation we use, or what, but the first guy who even has a chance to make a tackle when we kickoff is greeting the other team's return man at about the 25 yard line. That's awful, and it's killing us in the battle for field possession. I believe we are the fourth-worst team in the coverage in terms of kickoff yardage surrendered. That has to get better.
It wasn't a terrible night for Ryan Johnson, but it definitely seems as though the two blocked punts are in his head a little bit. He's not striking the ball as well as he was during the first half of the season, and eventually that's going to bite us.
As for Grant Donovan's bad snap in overtime, I really do think he was telling the truth when he said he heard the whistle before he snapped. When you watch the replay you can see him start to rise in an unusual fashion right before he shoots the ball over Will Stein's head.
Also, I think I was the only one in the stadium who didn't hear the whistle on the bad snap because I had an extreme "WHY IS NO ONE GOING AFTER THE BALL!?" freakout.
But to summarize, yeah, special teams have got to get better.
Judging from emails and Twitter messages, it would appear Mangok Mathiang and Montrezl Harrell posed for pictures with all but about 25 or so of the people attending Friday's game. Also, Mangok is apparently VERY fond of Miss CC.
If Mangok's all about it then I reckon I'm doing something right.
Very sad to see Lorenzo Mauldin go down, especially given the way he's played the past three weeks. After watching the replay I was pretty certain that it was a season-ending injury, but word from Charlie Strong is that it's just a sprained knee and he'll only be out a couple of weeks.
That's great news, not just because Mauldin is such a great kid, but because Louisville's really going to need that threat off the edge against both Rutgers and their bowl opponent.
Making the temporary loss of Mauldin easier to stomach was the play of Marcus Smith on Friday. He was constantly in the backfield and finished with two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. This is about the time of the year when Marcus emerged as a serious sack threat last season, and it seems like he's really coming alive again.
I spent a lot of time on Friday night watching Keith Brown, and it's remarkable how often he reads plays perfectly. He always seems to be in the right spot, and when he gets bigger, he is going to be an absolute terror for opposing offenses. The future of the linebacking corps is extremely bright.
Louisville really needed George Durant to step up, and he did. It seemed like there a few instances where Cincinnati had specifically targeted him as a guy they were trying to pick on, and in just about every one of those instances the former walk-on responded with a big-time play.
Solid work all the way around by the CC bird mask owners on Friday night. I got about 15 texts when the mask made the opening crowd shot on ESPN, and then a bunch a bunch more as the game went on and the masks continued to pop up on TV.
I keep getting emails from people upset that I haven't posted their mask shots, and I'm sorry, there are a lot of them and my bird mask organizational skills are apparently lacking.
Here are a few more heroes from Friday night:
My favorite thing to do when wearing thick gloves (like I was on Friday) is to do an imitation of the intese clapping the groundskeeper from Rudy does after Rudy notches that sack against Georgia Tech. Probably did it at least 45 times during the game. Didn't care if anyone is paying attention or knew what I was doing. Amusing myself is a full time job that I take extremely seriously.
Related note: apologies to the guy I high-fived after the game with said thick glove. The water from the soaked glove went all over his face and I felt really bad. He took it in stride though.
Cincinnati linebacker Greg Blair didn't mince words after the game.
"We just hate losing to these dudes," Blair said. "Anybody but these dudes. We hate Louisville. It's the Big East. We're right down the road from each other. We just hate those guys."
Well, that hate's going to be sitting there for a while, Greg.
Roy Philon read the reverse perfectly on UC's first touchdown, he just couldn't make the play on Ralph David Abernathy. It was frustrating. I was frustrated.
Both B.J. Butler and Jalen Harrington were asked to play a little tight end with Nate Nord hindered because of a hamstring injury, and both performed admirably despite limited practice time.
I thought extremely jacked up pregame Will Stein was my new favorite Will Stein...and then I met Kegstand of Nails Will Stein.
But seriously, Will's firing up of the crowd after the team runs out onto the field before the game is pretty much my favorite thing ever. It's a huge "Ok, let's go" moment for me personally, and I thank Sunny Will for that.
A big thanks to Adam Lefkoe of WHAS for taking the risk of putting me on the air live and talking about both the game and the CC Bird Masks. Also, thanks to the fraternities in the area for their support both morally and alcoholly (word). We should all get together and watch Talladega Nights sometime soon.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking about the overtime games against Kentucky and Florida State where Louisville intercepted passes and then ran for touchdowns on their first offensive play. When Senorise Perry broke that first run outside and had some daylight, my pants were about 1/4 of the way off.
People noticed. It really brought the excitement level down for a couple of plays.
That muffed punt rule is the stupidest rule of all-time, and I don't care how many times people tell me it's real, I'm still not going to believe it.
I think we may have witnessed the end of the Kai Dominguez punt returning era. The lack of excitement can be tolerated so long as you're consistently catching the ball, but when that isn't the case...well, it's time for "Fair Catch Scotty" to take back the reins.
In all seriousness, I'd love to see a guy like Charles Gaines or someone else who can provide some excitement to the return game get a shot, but I love seeing Bad Rad back there to field punts because you always know the worst case scenario still includes the offense taking over possession.
I'm still shocked we didn't score on that last drive of regulation. I went from upset about Cincy's tying touchdown to excited about the prospect's of a John Wallace game winner in record time. After the pass to Radcliff there was not one part of me that didn't think we were going to win in regulation.
Munchie Legaux missing a wide-open Travis Kelce on that third down with 2:35 to play was the biggest break Louisville has caught all season. If Munchie makes that throw then UC is able to almost run out the clock before attempting a short game-winner.
Just like a pitcher throwing a perfect game, you need a few breaks like that to achieve a perfect season.
I hyped Tony Miliano up as one of the nation's best kickers during the first quarter. You're welcome for that 4th quarter miss.
There have been a lot of comparisons drawn between this season and 2006, but let's look at the most prevalent right now:
In 2006, Louisville won its eighth game of the season at home on a weeknight in what was one of the most hyped Big East battles in a long time. That Sunday, the BCS rankings sent Card Nation into a tizzy.
The extreme level of positive energy was short-lived that year.
Now obviously a trip to Piscataway to face an undefeated Rutgers team is different than facing a Temple squad that will walk into PJCS at 3-4, but you can't ignore the parallels. Plus, this is a Cardinal team that hasn't exactly rolled over inferior competition the way that '06 group did.
Winning your first eight games is an extraordinary achievement on its own, but one of the most important things that Louisville has done by staying unbeaten to this point is put itself in a position where the rest of the country has to pay attention. When you're ranked in the nation's top ten in November, people are watching you. Everyone is watching you.
If the Cards are able to take their play up a notch from this point on, then people will be more willing to overlook the pedestrian scores from the late September and early October. But the team also has to understand that now there is a target on their back on a number of different levels. No one - a group that includes programs from other conferences, rival fans and players and many members of the media - wants to believe that Louisville is a top ten team, and people will look for any justification they can find to argue that Charlie Strong's team doesn't belong. That said, the little No. 10 next to their name guarantees that U of L is going to get the absolute best shot it faces from each and every team it faces from this point on.
You've put yourself in this position, fellas, but this isn't the time to celebrate, this is the time to start eating.
Go Cards. Beat Temple.