That title narrowly edged out "Krag Strikes Back" and "BCS Bound?", which were obvious and unbelievable, respectively. And, the question mark frames the great debate of the season: will Krag stay or will he go? In honor of the official start of the season, it is time to conclude the simulated PS3 season, begin the debate about whether people would be happy if this is how the season turned out, and let everyone give their own predictions for the season ahead. All this, and kicking stats, after the jump.....
Game 9 (5-3, 2-1 Big East) - Louisville@ West Virginia
The last four games of the season are tough: @WVU, Syracuse, @USF, Rutgers. Just one more win gets us to bowl eligibility. While this stat is as misleading as the UK-UL series edge (should games from before even Lee Corso and frankpos were born really count?), the Cards have not posted a victory in the hill country since 1990. Past is prologue as WVU jumps out to a 14-0 first quarter lead behind a 76 yard TD pass from Jarrett Brown to J. Sanders and a 1-yard TD run from someone called T. Austin who is not listed on the roster. Big East officials will apologize the next week for allowing a random man to play for WVU, but the touchdown stands on this Saturday. Anyway, the Cards answer in the 2nd quarter on a Dougherty field goal from a reasonable 31 yards out and a 21 yard TD pass from Froman to Andrew Robinson. The defense hold in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and Dougherty adds another FG, this one from 27, to bring the Cards to within 1 point going into the 4th quarter, 14-13. At this point, CardsFan922 and others are at home asking themselves in what brutal manner will we lose this one, and the excitement/fear grows as UofL takes the lead on a 3-yard Froman TD pass to Dougy B, who then immediately demands that he never be referred to as Dougy again. This TD occurs at 10:03, which is an eternity to have to hold on. The 'Neers settle for a field goal with 5:17 left to cut the lead to 4. I have no way to prove this, but I imagine WVU went for the onside kick, recovered and then the refs reversed it after the replay clearly showed that the kicker actually kicked the ball backwards 6 yards to the waiting arms of the random man T. Austin. At any rate, they did not score again and UofL hangs on to stun the Mountainman and his ilk, 21-17. Birmingham or Charlotte, here we come!
More likely what happened is that one of the 4 WVU turnovers (2 INTs and 2 fumbles) prevented them from scoring in those last 5 minutes and prevented them from scoring a TD in the last 3 quarters. WVU sure chewed up clock, running the ball 49 times and passing just 23 (only 10 completions), for 121 yards on the ground and 149 through the air. The four TOs were offset by 3 Cards turnovers (just 1 INT and mercifully no TAINTs), but the teams were basically even on 3rd down and fourth down conversions (Cards: 7-17, 0-1; bad guys: 7-18, 0-0). UofL punted 7 times for an anemic 39.1 yard average, but held the penalties down (5-25) and way below WVU's 10-82.
Vic again got the tiger's share of the offense, rushing 25 times for 79 yards and fumbling once. Nate Nord carried the load for the receivers, pulling down 7 for 61 yards. Robinson made the most of his 1 catch with the TD, and Beaumont was held to 3 catches for 34 yards, but did have the 1 TD. Tim High led the team in tackles with 7, with a few others bunched up at 6. Justin Matthews recorded the only sack of the night, and both of his tackles were TFLs. Dougherty's aforementioned made field goals were his only attempts.
One reason for this improbable-sounding outcome: no Noel Devine, who is either injured or changed his name to T. Austin. An editorial decision has been made to not report fully on the Cards virtual injuries so as to ensure there is no one to blame but the rightful blamee if misfortune actually befalls a UofL player and they get injured this year. However, the fact that Devine is not playing seems newsworthy.
Regardless, the Cards leave Morgantown with a victory, helping WVU on their way to a disappointing 7-4 (3-3) season and upping our record to 6-3, 3-1.
Game 10 (6-3, 3-1 Big East) - Syracuse @ Louisville
When the Orange step onto the field on this blustery November afternoon, there is hell to pay: two humiliating football defeats and the still-raw feelings over the still-raw Fab Melo have a lot of Cards fans calling for Otto's head on a platter, which is difficult since he is just sorta one big head and also sorta too creepy to really harm.
The Cards welcome the Orange into PJCS siting near the top of the Big East standings and with an outside shot to win the conference. That is the only time that sentence will be typed, by anyone, in 2009. Chris Campa starts the scoring with a 12-yard TAINT with 11:52 to go in the first quarter, and Syracuse's trusty "pass it to the wide open guy in the middle of the field and let him scamper 74 yards untouched for a TD" play apparently didn't make the trip as the Orange are held scoreless in the 1st quarter. That doesn't last long as Nassib connects with Davis for a 22-yard score (some people got their hands on him, but it was still frustrating to watch) with 8 minutes to go in the half. Two possessions later or so, Vic Anderson breaks his biggest run in a long time, a 62-yarder for a TD, and Beaumont scores a few minutes later on a 13-yard strike from the suddenly-TAINTless Adam Froman. A 2-point conversion (?) fails and the Cards are in control, 20-7, when Syracuse hits a 51-yard FG to inch closer as the halftime buzzer sounds.
That would be the last of the scoring.....for the Orange. The game stays reasonably close in the 3rd quarter as Dougherty adds a 37-yard FG to his dream season and we head to the fourth up 23-10. Another Dougherty FG from 24 has the fans trying to come up with nicknames (I seriously spent 5 minutes trying to think of one for this sentence and could not....) for the formerly pilloried Dougherty. At any rate, an Andrew Robinson 23-yard TD catch puts the game out of reach, and the final moment of catharsis is provided by Chaz Thompson, who runs back an INT 39 yards for the score with 49 seconds left. That feels good, even if it is fake. Take that, you Orange ba----ds, 40-10.
The home team moved the ball: 503 total yards of offense (232/271) to 228 for the visitors (only 32 rushing and 196 in the air). Surprisingly, some of the other stats were even-ish: 6-21 3rd down for 'Cuse (28%) to 5-17 (29%) for the good guys, and both were 0-1 on 4th down. Syracuse had no trips into the red zone and had 3 picks, including the final sealing TAINT. Syracuse punted twice as many times (14) as the Cards, although the average punt was thisclose (42.2 to 42.3). UofL had just 5 penalties again for 25 yards (not enough men on the line of scrimmage every time?) to Syracuse's 12-108 (ouch). Froman did record another INT and Beaumont fumbled on his one carry, pls no more jet sweeps kthxbai, but overall we held onto the ball for 32:24 to Cuse's 27:26.
Froman didn't have a terribly efficient day (18-42) and was sacked thrice, but did manage to throw 2 TDs. Vic really stole the show: 26 carries for 202 yards, a gaudy 7.7 ypc, including a TD and a 62 yard scamper up the sidelines. Beaumont snaps his double-digit yards per game slide and gets 100 on 8 catches, followed by Chichester's 4 catches for 69 yards and only 1 drop. Byron Stingily saw 4 pancakes on the menu....and got a double order!
Chris Campa was the star for Brent Guy's Guys (better or worse than the Dempsey Dozen?) recording 10 tackles and the tone-setting touchdown, and Chaz Thompson had 8 tackles to go along with his touchdown. Tim High was bottled up with just 1 tackle, apparently drawing double teams and freeing up the LBs. William Savoy (shouldn't he go by Liam Savoy, or does that sound too much like some sort of British lesser nobleman?) had some of the most efficient 6 tackles possible: 5 TFLs and 2 sacks.
In the end, the Cards get the much-needed victory, Krag can finally put an orange feather in his cap and the Cards are feeling good heading to Tampa, 7-3, 4-1, and within striking distance of, dare I say it, a BCS Berth? I think it is safe to say that EA needs to work on its algorithms.
Game 11 (7-3, 4-1 Big East) - Louisville@ South Florida
Excitement is high in the 'Ville as the Cards start getting some national press and Kragthorpe signs a 5-year, $2.1 million per extension. Awaiting us in Tampa are the Grothe-less Bulls of South Florida. Remember the last few years when it seemed like UK basketball always played a team when its best player was injured? I guess our only recourse is the 2009 simulated season, because that's two big road games in a row where the other team's best player did not play after Devine sat out the game 2 weeks ago. Replacement B.J. Daniels (raise your hand if you knew USF's back-up QB without having to Google. Those with your hands raised, and I'm likely looking at you Quinn1979, need to seek help) has a rough night: 4 INTs on 18-33 passing. I'm giving that stat out of order because I had to go see for myself how USF scored a field goal 7 minutes into the game....and then got goose-egged the rest of the afternoon.
The Cards, on the other hand, scored early and often: Chichester 5-yard TD pass (the fade to the 6'8'' guy finally got called AND worked?), Dexter Heyman returned a TAINT 43 yards and Vic Anderson punched one in from one yard out to storm into the locker room with a 21-3 lead. The second half was likely very boring: three Dougherty field goals provide the final cushion as the Cards win, 30-3.
USF actually out-gained UofL 260-175, and held the ground game in check (35 carries for 53 yards) while forcing another inefficient Froman outing (16-43). The story of the game, of course, was turnovers: USF's 4 INTs including Dexter's TD really negated their offense, and even though we couldn't move the ball that well, we got into the red zone 7 (!) times and scored on 5 of the possessions, including 3 FGs on 3 attempts. Vic tried his best but couldn't really break through: 19 carries for 45 yards and 1 TD (and a long run of 8. Talk about boring.) Beaumont and Chichester led the way for the WRs, 7/52/0 for Beaumont and 4/28/1 for Josh.
LT Walker stepped up big in his second to last regular season game, recording 8 tackles (1 TFL). Four guys had the picks: Heyman, Johnny Patrick and Dunning, and Jacque Caldwell, who returned his 81 yards (so this was a foiled red zone attempt - nicely done Monsieur Caldwell).
And so the Cards magical late-game run continues and they leave Tampa winners of 5 straight to run their record to 8-3, 5-1, tied atop for first place in the Big East with Rutgers and with a realistic chance at a BCS berth. Dare to dream.
Game 12 (8-3, 5-1 Big East) - Rutgers @ Louisville
And so the season has come down to this. Just like 3 years ago, PJCS hosts a huge Big East game with major BCS implications as Big East co-leader Rutgers comes in for a huge Saturday showdown for all the marbles. In my mind's eye, the city is electric and this game is SOLD THE F OUT because everyone hates Rutgers and a de-facto conference championship at home in late November is just a big deal. I'm actually excited even thinking about it, even if it is just virtual.
Rutgers stops the Cards on their first drive, but Dougherty hits a 29-yard FG to give us a 3-0 lead. That lead lasts about 6 minutes, as QB Dominic Natale scampers 19 yards for the score. Rutgers adds another TD late in the 1st quarter on a short run to push the margin to 10, and a Te Fg runs the score to 17-3. Seems like a cold, field position, grind-it-out game from the first half description, at least on our end. Dougherty hits a 31-yarder with 14 seconds left in the half and we go into the locker room down a manageable 17-6.
The second half starts out equally as promising as the first, but this time Vic punches it in from 4 yards out to cut the score to 17-13. The crowd is going wild, PJCS's glory days are recalled and enjoyed by all, and the defense holds Rutgers scoreless through the 3rd quarter and 10 minutes of the 4th. Unfortunately, the Cards cannot get back into the endzone to re-take the lead, and Natale throws a 1-yard TD pass with 5:29 left in the game to put the first nail into the coffin. A Te Fg with 2:39 left ends the dream of another trip to the Orange Bowl. Rutgers holds on to win 27-13 to win the Big East and the automatic berth to the BCS.
Surprisingly, turnovers were not the story here, as the Cards lost just 1 fumble to Rutgers's 2 INTs and fumble of their own. Rutgers had a narrow edge in offense (319-294) but really dominated on the ground (132 on 45 carries to our 89 yards on 34 carries). Third down conversions were hard to come by: 5-22 (22%) for the Cards, but 2-3 on 4th down in desperate times gave us a chance. The Cards punted 11 times to Rutgers's 8. The difference appears to be Red Zone conversion. Rutgers got within 20 yards of the goal line thrice and had touchdowns to prove it each time. Whereas, 10 points was all we got out of our same exact 3 trips.
Penalties also were basically even, although the teams combined 28 flags for 178 yards made this game difficult to watch. The ESPN crew (Pam Ward was prominently involved as this was a 5 PM start time, I imagine) probably overused the word "chippy" to describe "things out there" and how those things "[were] getting."
Froman had a busy day - 20-50 (!) passing for 205 yards, no TDs or INTs but 2 sacks. Froman also was the guilty fumbling party, and based on nothing other than experience watching UofL lose crucial games in my lifetime, I imagine this fumble directly set up a Rutgers TD. Vic made the most of his 19 carries with 79 yards (4.1 per) and 1 TD, but no one else could get a TD of their own. Beaumont and Nord caught some passes for some yards, 8/71 and 6/42 to be exact, but could not put points on the board.
No one on the defense stood out . Campa and Patrick had INTs, but only 2 sacks and just a handful of TFLs sprinkled around are not worth writing about, as I am deflated having even gotten my virtual hopes up for a virtual BCS showdown with UNC or some other crappy virtual ACC team in the annual Orange Bowl.
The Cards finish the season as they began it: with disappointment and consternation across the Cardinal Nation. To come so close to a BCS bowl after two nightmare seasons, to witness so many interceptions returned for touchdowns by opposing players, to see Tim Doughtery turn into Art Carmody Jr., to slay the Orange Whale and to see it all slip away to Rutgers, again, is just too much for many to bear. The Cards finish 8-4, 5-2, which, considering the dire predictions, is a dream season. But considering the dreaded whatmighthavebeen, is a nightmare.
Many swear off Cardinal sports forever, and virtually dozens make the trip to Birmingham for the papajohns.com bowl against Troy. I'm 1000% serious, that's where the simulation has us playing a bowl, can you imagine anything worse? However, after a few days, true fans everywhere get up, put on a brave face and some pants, summon the strength to go on, and find solace in that timeless and annual lament: When does NCAA Basketball 2010 hit stores?