Well I gave it a night, an afternoon, and an extra viewing, and I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that the most talented team in the history of this program nearly spit the bit against the worst Division I-A opponent on a relatively easy (let's not kid ourselves) 12-game schedule. I mean imagine if Nickson doesn't fumble that kickoff or if Craddock doesn't throw that interception near the endzone, that's it, season over, we're Michigan.
The thing that worries me the most is that after the game no one seemed angry. Now this could just be a facade, and I hope that's the case, but the lack of emotion before, during and after the game on the faces of all parties was disconcerting to say the least. You have Steve Kragthorpe not doing anything on the sidelines but staring, clapping, and saying "let's go;" you have Brian Brohm revealing after the game that "not much" was said to the defense at halftime; and you have Earl Heyman saying jokingly after the game, "I love our offense."
Where is the fire? Where is the "I'm pissed off and this is going to be a hell of a week of practice?" If you want to keep things close to the vest that's fine, but at least give us some sort of indication that you care.
I wish I could say otherwise, but this is the first time since some year in the 90's that losing the Kentucky game has actually existed as a possibility in my mind. Sure, since 2002 there's always been that tiny bit of fear that I've relegated to a very small, very dark portion of my brain, but this time I can actually see the fans and players celebrating inside Commonwealth, and it's terrifying.
On that happy note, here are some other disjointed thoughts on what we witnessed last night.
I promised myself I'd start on a positive note, so where else would I turn but Art Carmody? The goalposts could have been five feet apart and he still would have buried all seven extra points and three field goals last night.
Additionally, Art is now just 99 points shy of breaking the all-time scoring record in D-IA, currently held by former Miami of Ohio and Manual High School running back Travis Prentice. An interesting Mike Rutherford fact is that I was actually at the game where Prentice set the record, and now I plan to be at the game where Arthur breaks it.
The deer in the headlights look constantly shown by the ESPN2 production crew was eerily reminiscent of a certain other coach who used man the Cardinal sidelines, of course he usually saved it for the second half of big road games.
I'm not going use this post solely to bash the coaching staff because that's already being done all over the internet, so I'm simply going to list the unforgivable mistakes of last night under this bullet, and then move on.
1. The timeout wasted on the Barnidge fumble.
It was obvious that the ball was out and yet it looked like Kragthorpe didn't even bother to consult with Barnidge (who never disputed the call) before challenging the ruling. In big games, something like this can end up being an enormous mistake.
2. The blitz on 3rd and 16 on MTSU's first possession.
I understand that Cassity wanted to show off after all the stuff about U of L not recording a sack against Murray State (we had one last night FYI) had shown up in the papers, but sending a safety (Russell) and a linebacker (Smith) on a 3rd and 16 is just preposterous. I have no idea what we were doing on this play, we were in man and Malik Jackson (who you'd think would be responsible for anyone coming out of the backfield) took the tight end, leaving no one for Travis Norton to cover and allowing McNair to slip out of the backfield into a wide-open middle and haul in a 78-yard touchdown pass.
I talked about this in my MTSU breakdown, but the Blue Raiders did the same in last year's game that Murray State did a week ago in exposing an open middle of the field when we blitz, and yet somehow we allowed it to happen again and again last night.
3. The Brohm option from the two.
The horribly ironic thing about this strange play call was that Bill Curry - the genius behind the Tim Couch option - was in the booth raving about what a great call it was.
4. The uncovered man on 3rd and 2.
Easily one of the more embarrassing things I've seen a Louisville football team do, and there have been plenty. The defense - on the verge of its first stop in an eternity - begs the crowd to get up, and the crowd - despite being subjugated to the worst home defensive performance in four years - reciprocates only to watch in horror as the defense leaves a man completely by himself to scamper 60 some yards to give MTSU another red zone opportunity. It's not like this was Mills Kills or anything, the guy was just lining up in his normal position and inexplicably there was nobody anywhere near him. This sort of thing just doesn't happen to top ten teams in the second week of the season, a week where good teams are supposed to show off the biggest leap in improvement of the year.
Even with the performance on the field, the booing from the crowd was reprehensible and embarrassing. The relationship between the fans and the players is a mutually beneficial one, when they boo you for not being in your seats for kickoff (and there were quite a few who were not last night) then you can boo them for playing poorly.
Terrance Butler, what the hell man? A week after committing 58 penalties in limited playing time, you're going to hit the quarterback late when we have the opportunity completely seize the momentum and be well on our way towards a blowout? Again, what the hell man?
The penalties were again extremely troubling, but aside from the aforementioned error in judgment by Butler and the call against Giacomini (which I didn't see), the personal fouls were somewhat forgivable. Wood was pushed into the guy (I still have no idea how the official didn't see that), Mario and Harry are tight so when Harry got drilled way late Mario instinctively gave a shove (you'd love to see restraint but I would have probably done the exact same thing), and the Willie Williams late hit call was borderline at best, and he's a guy who's been itching to play and hit someone all summer so it's kid of understandable. I was sort of surprised to hear Koach tell Willie to "slow down" when he talked to him on the sidelines, since it's sort of a coaching faux pas to tell defensive players to do anything slow.
Not sure if it was indicative of the way they ordinarily play, but it sure looked like Middle Tennessee was a pretty cheap team and there were several instances where I was actually proud of our guys for not retaliating.
It was good to see Willie on the field, but I was surprised with how slight he looked. I suppose this is a result of his illness. You'd love to see him at full strength for next week but it certainly seems like a long shot at this point.
Big, big, big time performance by Anthony Allen. The runningback by committee thing is apparently out the window, but you can't fault the decision to keep putting the ball in the hands of a horse when he's running like that. We needed a big time performance from AA and he delivered.
Speaking of running backs, it will be interesting to see if we end up having to burn one of our freshman running backs' redshirts if the injuries to Sergio (damnit) and Brock keep them out for an extended period of time. The smart money is on "no," but it's something to watch for.
We simply cannot start or have Bobby Buchanan in on key plays. Nothing against the kid, but we just can't do it. I have no idea why Woodny Turenne was only playing on special teams, but we've got to have him on the field at corner for a significant chunk of each game if he's healthy.
We got away with the blitzing and leaving your corners on an island last season because the only decent passing quarterback we faced all year was a confidence-lacking Andre Woodson, but our corners simply aren't good enough to be trusted with covering the likes of Burton and Lyons one-on-one with a fully confident Woodson chucking the ball around next Saturday.
We probably won't have any idea of how bad it was for at least a week, but Latarrius Thomas' injury did not look good. You have to hope that him being carted off was only done as a precaution.
While I hate to pile on the kid, Thomas was terrible last night. He absolutely blew at least two assignments, missed one tackle horribly and had the look of a guy whose mind was elsewhere in the first half. And it wasn't just Thomas, the safeties as a group gave a piss poor performance. Russell badly missed a tackle, Raglin can lay the wood but his pass protection instincts are poor, and I hardly noticed Deon Palmer at all.
I haven't seen a practice in a month, but I can't imagine that all four of these guys are consistently performing better than Brandon Heath, especially after watching him make a fantastic tackle on a kickoff.
Harry Douglas took an absolute beating last night and still notched his fifth straight game with at least 100 yards. It's hard to critique a guy when he goes over the 400-yard mark for the first time in his career, but if I were 85 I might have a word with my QB about not getting left out to dry.
Our linebackers look really unsure of their responsibilities. Jackson and Smith freeze or stumble every time the opposing quarterback even looks like he's thinking about handing the ball off or taking a shot down field. Lamar Myles was the only guy in the middle who was flying around, and sometimes he appeared to be flying in no particular direction.
Peanut Whitehead was completely M.I.A. I don't know if he was upset about not starting, but he did not accomplish much aside from getting to the quarterback untouched and promptly blowing a sack.
Maurice Mitchell (who did start) started slowly, but actually played a pretty good game. He pressured the quarterback a few times and made a great strip on the big fumble near midfield.
Expectedly, unit leaders Earl Heyman and Adrian Grady were the only two defensive players I was pleased with. The linebackers are supposed to be the leaders of the defense, but it sure seems like the unit feeds off of the energy of these two guys more than anybody else. Heyman was constantly driving his man back into the quarterback, and made two big-time tackles on plays that could have broken for big gains. They can't defend passes, but if the ship is righted on defense I'd expect that these guys will have had a lot to do with it.
Trent Guy and JaJuan Spillman are both very exciting players and I love having them deep on kicks, but more times than not last night they ran toward the sidelines instead of running to where their blockers were. Almost every big kickoff return you'll ever see starts with the wedge guys.
People are complaining about Mario's play last night, and disregarding the fact that he caught seven balls for 142 yards and two scores. We've already talked about the personal foul penalty, and the holding penalty was bad but that's one of those things you can call on just about any receiver on just about any play. The touchdown drop should have been caught, but it wasn't quite as easy a catch as people are making it out to be seeing as he was sandwiched in between three defenders and Brohm threw the ball just about as hard as he could. There are plenty of people to be upset with for lst night's performance, but Mario Urrutia isn't one of them.
Corey Goettsche booted a tremendous punt in his first and only attempt of the year thus far. It was good to see.
Even though there's more to be said, I've got to run. But I'd like to end this by saying that even though I think we're all still pretty upset (I think this post gave me away) there is a possibility that we will all be looking back and laughing at this a week and a half from now. Even the most loyal of Cardinal fans is feeling a bit skeptical about the coaching staff right now, but the good news is that a big chance to move on and make serious amends is right around the corner.