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Simulated Season Part 2: Righting The Ship

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After the big win over Pitt, the Cards enter a critical four game stretch: former CUSA rival Southern Miss at home, followed by road games at UConn and Cincinnati, capped off with a Halloween home game against Arkansas State that could be considered a "trap game" - coming between important Big East road games against rivals Cinci and WVU and hosting a "directional" opponent that we should be seems like a CJ headline writers dream.  A loss here and the words trick and/or treat are certain to appear the next morning.  Also, a loss to Ark. State at home would certainly spell the end of our short regional nightmare as there is no way Krag retains his Captain's hat in the storm that would follow.   Summary of games 1-4 here.  So with that as a prologue, let's see how the virtual Cards and Conrad Thomas handle the pressure, the success, the pancakes and the drama of the middle third of their season....after the jump.  

Game 5 (2-2, 1-0 Big East) - Southern Miss @ Louisville

Did you know that the Cards didn't play USM in 2003 and 2004, the last two seasons in Conference USA?  I did not until moments before writing that sentence, which had originally been crafted around a Petrino beat-down / payback angle for USM.  Somehow I think they've forgiven Richard Owens et al. for their role in the 2002 squeaker, which was pulled out by the Cards on USM's home field in Overtime, 20-17.  Anyway, since they lost their last game against us by missing 4 field goals, it is only fitting that they start their 2009 game with a field goal for a 3-0 lead late in the 1st quarter.  The lead is short lived as Vic Anderson catches a 21-yard pass from Adam "Still Starting After All These TAINTs" Froman.  That makes at least 4 ~20 yard TD passes from Froman to Vic, so if you are playing against the Cards controlled by the CPU (i.e., all you UK lurkers), watch out for the screen or quick flare out of the backfield if the computer is knocking on the door of the red zone.  Anyway, this lead lasted less time than it took for you to read that last sentence as M. Duckworth returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a TD.  Literally all 30,000 people in attendance not in line for beer said the same curse words at the same time during that run.  Things inside PJCS get more cursy and some booooos are heard after USM punches in their first offensive TD halfway through the 2nd quarter for a 17-7 lead.  The shoulder pads of Vic Anderson continue carrying their heavy burden as he answers with a 2-yard TD run of his own to cut the margin to 3, 17-14, heading into the half.

The story in the second half, and really the whole game, is the Cardinal defense (any chance the Dempsey Dozen catches on?  Dozen because either "baker's dozen" is 13 so Dempsey Dozen could be 11, OR, Dozen because we often have one too many men on the field and incur a 5 yard penalty for our trouble).  Either way, the Dempsey Dozen hold the Eagles scorless in the third quarter as Doug Beaumont catches an 18-yard TD pass to give the Cards a 21-17 lead heading into the 4th quarter.  The 22 minute scoreless streak is snapped with 9 minutes to go in the 4th as USM hits a 38 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 1, 21-20.  The Cards chew clock and the defense holds, and a Dougherty 24 yarder with less than 2 minutes to play ends the scoring and the Cards pull out a victory 24-20. 

USM actually out-gained the Cards on the ground, 138-96, but the Eagles couldn't soar as high as the Cards in the air (I just threw up in my mouth after writing that), as Froman goes 23-45 for 355 yards and 2 TDs, converting 8-19 on 3rd down and 2-4 on 4th, which is impressive until you realize USM converted 4-5 4th downs.  Overall, the Cardinals gained 451 yards in total offense to USM's 272.  The Cards had kept the penalties down in their first 4 games, but perhaps they were inspired by a pre-game speech from the last UofL coach to beat Southern Miss as they racked up 13 penalties for 90 yards in Game 5. 

Vic carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and Bilal Powell got 1 carry for 2 yards (these simulations aren't really interested in balancing playing time), and Anderson also caught 3 passes for 33 yards and the aforementioned TD.  Beaumont had another stand-out game, catching 8 passes for 157 yards and a TD.  His 19.6 YPC stat approaches Mario 2005 level numbers.  Long and Nate Nord had 4 catches each, but Long went for 80 yards and Nord 29.  Although there is not a drive chart, which would make these summaries MUCH more interesting, I like to imagine Nord's catches were all critical third down, 6-yard catches on 3rd and 4. 

Dexter Heyman had a breakout game, leading the defense with 10 tackles (1 TFL) and Johnny Patrick had 2 INTs.  Only one sack on the day (hi Tim High) and Dempsey let the other 11 do his dirty work, recording just 4 tackles.  Overall, the defense really carried us, only giving up 1 TD (imagination alert: probably a short field after Froman's only INT) and 2 field goals.  Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a win streak as the Cards go to 3-2 (1-0) on the season and head out on the road to the Armpit of the Big East, where cheaters roam free (in both revenue sports!) and the normal rules of fair play and intellectual honesty on kick returns don't apply: Connecticut. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Conrad Thomas chose the Denny's All-American Grand Slam over the Lumberjack Grand Slam for an obvious reason.

Game 6 (3-2, 1-0 Big East) - Louisville @ UConn

There is good news and there is bad news: UConn finishes 1-6 in the Big East.  You'll figure out the bad news in a moment, if you haven't already.  Vic Anderson starts the scoring off midway through the first quarter, running it in from 6 yards out for a 7-0 lead.  The defense continues its streak of quarters without giving up a touchdown to 3 by blanking UConn in the first.  Froman throws a 34 yard touchdown pass early in the 2nd quarter to J. Howard, of the Greenwich Howards, which is to say that Howard plays for UConn.  That ends Froman's 2-game TAINT-less streak.  Another streak comes to end with 1:34 left in the half as Zach Fraser throws a 3 yard TD pass (I imagine most of the Dempsey Dozen biting hard on an obvious play fake on 2nd down) and the Huskies take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

UofL battles back to tie the game a few minutes into the second half as Doug B. catches another TD pass, this one 21 yards, from Froman.  UConn breaks the tie a few minutes later with a field goal, and the 4th quarter starts with the Cards within striking distance down 17-14.  The fourth quarter also starts with another TD pass from Froman to a guy in blue, as B. Wreh Wilson returns an INT 66 yards for the backbreaking TD.  Much things are thrown at TVs in the Louisville area and the first "Please Play Justin Burke" comment hits the Open Thread around yard 23 of the TAINT return.  Frazer adds another TD pass on UConn's next possession and the Cards fall 31-14, to go to 1-1 in the Big East and deny Krag his first ever 2-game Big East winning streak.  Seriously, the man has not beaten 2 Big East teams back to back yet, although to be fair, it is hard to beat 2 teams back to back in a season if you only beat one other Big East team.  /rant

There is a common thread running through these simulated losses: Froman throwing interceptions returned for touchdowns by the opposing team.  It is getting ridiculous, and I seriously doubt that he has multiple games with multiple TAINTs.  The defense did what they could, holding UConn to two TDs and a field goal, but they couldn't score any points and couldn't turn UConn over at all.  In total offensive the Cards had the upper hand 292-276, even on the ground at 79 yards each but 213 through the air to UConn's 197.  Passing-wise, 20-48 with 3 INTs and 1 TD is just not going to get it done from Froman. Ten penalties for 55 yards sounds like a lot of offsides and not enough men on the line of scrimmage penalties, with a random 10-yard holding penalty thrown in, but no 15 yard personal fouls, so that's good.  A combined 24 punts couldn't have been fun to watch, although it would likely give me 13 times to yell "hit him anyway!" while Mrs. CardsFan922 tells me to get over it it was 2 years ago and besides it is not the same guy so just stop. 

Froman's day is worse than already listed, with 4 sacks and a 41% completion rate to go along with his TAINTs.  Vic does his best with 19 carries for 75 yards and 1 TD, but with only a long of 10 yards, that seems like a lot of short gains and some stopped-behind-the-lines on the game.  Beaumont is getting some Big East Offensive Player of the Week honorable mention talk again this week with another 8 catches for 107 yards.  Chichester has 4 catches for 45 yards but Scott Long is shut down, just 1 catch for 18 yards.  Tronzo catches the ball once for one yard in what I can only imagine was a horrible play to have to watch from start to finish.

Dexter Heyman follows up his strong outing last week with 11 tackles (3 TFL) and a sack, and since Canody had 10 tackles, I assume that means Dempsey was injured.  Either that, or disgusted by the Dempsey Dozen nickname.  I won't use it for the next summary and we'll see if he is back on the field in Cinci, where the 3-3 (1-1) Cards will attempt to re-right the ship and re-write the script for a season that has driven fans crazy: close games, backbreaking TAINTs, wins following losses following wins and a .500 record.  And the enigma that is Conrad Thomas....who, well, you know.

Game 7 (3-3, 1-1 Big East) - Louisville @ Cinci

Arguably the most critical game of the season awaits the Cardinals as they cross over that scary bridge with way too many confusing signs and interchanges to try to bring the Keg of Nails back home.  Cinci is in the midst of a good season and will end up 9-3, 5-2 to keep their program going in the right direction.  The Bearcats lead 7-3, 10 minutes into the game thanks to a Gilyard touchdown (which isn't fair, since Gilyard apparently was granted a 9th year of eligibility under the Anthony Mason Jr. rule) answering a Dougherty field goal.  The Cards close out the first quarter with a 1-yard TD pass to Doug "Keep Putting Your Best CB On Scott Long And See If I Care" Beaumont from Froman, who then runs for his first rushing TD of the season two minutes later for a 17-7 lead. 

Froman continues the unbelievable run of TAINTs with a 29 yarder early in the 2nd quarter (amid calls for more tackling drills in practice by the WRs and OL) and Cinci takes the lead 21-17 into halftime thanks to a 3 yard TD run by J. Ramsey. Things aren't looking good and halftime is spent hiring a private investigator to see what Froman's private investigator has on Kraghthorpe because really Justin Burke should at least get a chance by now.  IRL I think 6 interceptions returned for a touchdown through 7 games would ultimately result in a regime change, but I can't swear to it.

Anyway, there's some hope after the defense keeps us close through most of the third quarter and Vic Anderson puts us on top 24-21 with a 6 yard TD run.  Cinci ties it up with a field goal and we head to the 4th quarter tied at 24.  Not sure what is more improbable - so many TAINTs or so many made field goals, but Tim Dougherty hits one from 36 (!) and the Cards take the lead 27-24.  The defense holds and one or more of Cinci's 4 turnovers probably occur during this stretch.  In the end, Vic punches another TD in from 2 yards out with 2 minutes to go, and the Cards bring home the Hogshead of Auger Bits and prompt another round of "Kragthorpe's Defining Victory" stories from the CJ after a 34-24 final score. 

The defense gave up a lot of yards, 330 to be exact, but four intercepted passes keeps the other team out of the end zone enough to give the offense a chance to get the ball to Vic and Doug.  The Cards were a horrible 3-19 on third down (throw the ball longer than 4 yards on 3rd and 8 ZOMG) but four of those frowns were turned upside down as they converted on 4th down (4-4).  Eleven penalties for 73 yards but only 6 punts combined for another good-but-not-great offensive day, including 260 passing yards from Froman on 17-40.  Stefan LeFors, he isn't. 

Vic Anderson again leads the Cards in carries and yards, 21 attempts for 78 yards and 2 TDs.  Beaumont has another good day, 6 catches for 133 yards and a TD.  My promise did not work as Jon Dempsey did not record a tackle again.  Tim High (hi Tim!) records 9 tackles to lead the nicknameless eleven.  The real key plays are the interceptions: Canady had one, Chaz Thompson had one, Kardell Dunning had one (no doubt inspired by CardsFan922 still sporting the 7 jersey) and Johnny Patrick had one that he returned for 38 yards to no doubt set up a score. Gnat, Jessen and LT Walker all had sacks.  Byron Stingily had four pancakes as the Cards get back in the black, 4-3 (2-1) on the season and head home for the Arkansas St.....hold on while I google this....Red Wolves.  Seriously? 

 

Game 8 (4-3, 2-1 Big East) - Arkansas St. @ Louisville

Here is my guess for the most-used "costume" or most-made costume joke for this game, which falls on Halloween Night:

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via assets.sbnation.com

But in the virtual season, the Cards are riding high after upsetting Cincinasti and getting above .500 in the Big East, doubling the conference win total from last season (threw up in my mouth again) and needing to win just 2 games out of the last 5 to become bowl eligible.  Dare to dream!

The dream looks like it might turn into a nightmare for the first 20 minutes of the game as the...hold on let me scroll up....Red Wolves take a 3-0 lead to the 10:43 mark of the 2nd quarter.  Nate Nord catches a 35 yard TD pass (imagination: throwing off three Red Wolves in the last 7 yards and diving into the end zone) and Koach goes for 2.  Would love to know why.  Anyway, that would be the only touchdown scored by either team all day.  J. Arauco hits a 49 yard field goal (immediately prompting "how hard is it to find a good kicker?!?!" posts and comments across the web), but Tim Dougherty answers with a 55-yarder (!!!!) and a slightly-more-realistic-but-not-that-much-more-when-you-think-about-it 39 yarder with 1:09 to go to ice the game, 14-6.  There is no where to check the weather on this simulation, but i imagine this one was cold, rainy and the teams both played with plastic Superman and Batman masks over their helmets as I can't imagine Vic Anderson couldn't score a TD on these guys?  What the hell?

Vic did have 24 carries for 82 yards and 2 catches for 22 yards, and Doug B. added 6 catches for a pedestrian 76 yards.  Froman was 16-35 for 192 yards and Arkansas St actually outgained the Cards 298-295.  Froman managed to avoid throwing it to the other team (attaboy!) but the Cards did lose one fumble.  They forced 2 turnovers though, and held Ark. St to 2-4 on 4th down conversions.  Third downs were even: 5-20 for both teams, but the Cards converted both of their 4th down tries and their only 2-point conversion attempt, and some combination of all of those things made the difference. 

Scruggs, Heyman and Walker lead the way with 8,7,7 tackles and 2 TFLs and 1 sack each, although Heyman distinguished himself with an INT.  Conrad Thomas had waffles instead, maybe with some strawberries if you have them, thanks.  

Overall, getting into the endzone when your opponent doesn't is an effective way to win, and while it certainly didn't look pretty and lived up to its "trap game" billing, the Cards escape with a win to put together a nice little win streak, literally the littlest winning streak statistically possible, to go to 5-3, 2-1 on the season.  With no bye's until the end of the season (which technically isn't a bye, its just the off-season starting a week earlier, or another week to get everyone's passports together for the International Bowl, if you are a reasonably realistic optimist), the Cards head into a brutal last four games: @WVU (haven't won there in 20 years), Syracuse at home (this is a family blog so I won't type what I want to type in this parenthetical), @USF (never won there ever) and home to Big-East-leading-and-who-will-then-be-ranked-#8 Rutgers. 

Can the Cards pull one of those four games out for bowl eligibility?  Will Krag get his first ever win against Syracuse?  What bad thing will happen at South Florida?  Will Conrad Thomas ever record another pancake?  Will I break the record for most use of ( )'s in an SB Nation blog post?  Tune in sometime in the next few days to find out as the Season Simulation continues with Part Three: Kragthorpe Strikes Back.