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2010 Simulated Season Part 2: Managing Expectations

Managing expectations is an important part of life and work, especially any sort of job with clients or paying customers.  This blog, for instance.  All of your monthly subscription checks are much appreciated, but in exchange for forking over those hard-earned dollars (does anyone ever fork over easily earned dollars?  Or fork over anything else for that matter?) you expect prompt service.  Simulated Season, Part 2 is long overdue, and for that I apologize. 

Managing expectations is also going to be critical for Charlie Strong in his first year as Cardinal football coach.  Fans remembered all the "we are going to compete for a national championship" talk in 2007 and therefore Koach received very little wiggle room, even when he tried to say that we were rebuilding.  Fans have short memories, but not that short.

Anyway, IRL Charlie Strong has not promised anything other than players playing so hard, a certain part of their anatomy critical for the survival of the species may spontaneously fall off.  However, Virtual Charlie Strong has expectations crazy high after a 4-0 start that included a beatdown of Kentucky and a road victory over a ranked PAC-12 team of Beavers.  The meat of the schedule is coming up: Memphis, then 4 straight Big East games against teams not expected to win the conference.  So with everyone's expectations high, let's see how Strong handles his first taste of Big East meat....after the jump....

Game 5 (4-0, 0-0) - Memphis @ Louisville

A return date from our win there in 2008, the Memphis Tigers come into PJCS to face a much different Cardinal team than in 2008.  The defense is the story here, holding Memphis to 3 points on 274 total yards of offense.  The suspense is over early: Vic scores a 2-yard rushing TD in the first quarter, and the Cards answer a Memphis field goal with a 58 yard TD pass to Josh Chichester, which was beautiful to watch, for a 14-3 halftime lead.  Doug Beaumont catches a 9 yard pass from Froman in the third quarter, Philpott adds another field goal to his impressive season, and Chichester catches an 8 yarder (that fade still works) to end the scoring and the Cards win easily, 31-3. 

The running game was not that impressive for the Cards, only 80 yards on 33-clock controlling attempts.  Froman ends the day 24-40 with the three TDs and 1 INT, and Will Stein gets some time, going 4-6 with 1 INT and a few yards here and there.  Vic carries the load of the carries, gaining 67 yards on 18 attempts.  Chichester's 2 TDs and 104 yards are the story for the receivers, although the secondary story (and one that will become a theme) is that a lot of guys catch a lot of balls - Vic, Doug and CmGrm haul in 5 apiece, Ashley has 3, Harris and Meagher 2, Notcha and Pascley 1 each.  With no one at the Mario/Harry level (sorry Doug), the WRs this season are going to be by committee.  But it'll do.

The same can be said for the defense: Canady leads the way with 8 tackles, but a lot of guys contribute, including interceptions from the safeties Simien and Shenard Holton

An easy beatdown of a formal rival and a 5-0 start have the city hopping, national media taking notice and expectations through the roof as the Big East season starts with a visit from another old conference rival, the evil terrible no good Cincinnati Bearcats.

Game 6 (5-0, 0-0) - Cincinnati @ Louisville

Charlie Strong seeks to become the first Louisville football coach in the history of recorded time to win his first Big East game (look it up!) as the Bearcats come into Papa Johns on what I'm sure will be a cool, crisp October Friday night, but also could be snowing or 86 degrees.  The Cards jump out to an early lead on a 6 yard TD pass from Froman to Doug Beaumont, and a Philpott 40-yard field goal makes it 10-0. Cinci strikes back with a 37 yard field goal halfway through the 2nd quarter, but Troy Pascley (who has been hyped as the next great Cardinal receiver since summer 7-on-7 drills during Chris Redman's final season) gets on the board with another 6 yard TD.  I think both of those were bubble screens, and you can't prove me wrong.

A 17-3 halftime lead has the crowd buzzing at halftime, now that they're finally all there by then, but Cincinnati doesn't fold, cutting the score to 17-10 on a 3 yard TD run by one S. Johnson with about 6 minutes to go in the third quarter.  The Cards can't score at all in the 3rd, and the Bearcats tie it up shortly into the 4th quarter on a 6 yard run by Pead.  The crowd is understandably nervous after the last couple of 4th quarter defensive collapses have let better teams back into games.  This has to be a product of depth - while we have some quality guys, we don't have a ton of them (thanks Koach!) so a few injuries or long defensive series or 100 degree playing conditions will understandably lead to some tired defenders in the fourth quarter this season.  We have to factor that into our expectations.

Anyway, freshman sensation Michaelee Harris is a certified badass, and proves it by converting a 2 yard pass from Froman with 4:00 minutes left in the game for a touchdown and a 24-17 lead.  Huge crowd reaction, as I imagine the 7 minutes of game time between Cinci's tying score and re-taking the lead were pretty tense.  Look for Harris to have a big season, reasonable expectations be damned.  Sidebar: that description of Harris includes this attribute: "One of the most complete wide receivers in this class... catches the ball with his hands and runs great routes."  I believe this is to contrast him with WRs who catch the ball with their bodies/shoulder pads, but upon first review, that's a funny scouting statement. 

The defense does a great job keeping the game tied, and by that I mean they didn't let Cinci score while the game was tied and almost instantly give up another tying touchdown, with 2:16 left on a 5 yard pass from Zach Collaros, meaning that was a quick drive.  Crap. 

The Cards get the ball back with one last chance to get into Philpott's virtual range, and march down the field.  With :49 seconds left and the ball 12 yards from the goal, you'd expect some sort of run to let the clock get down and kick the field goal, but Sanford/Strong risk their balls off and Zach Meagher catches a 12 yard TD pass from Adam Froman, and the crowd goes wild, Cards win, Cards win!  31-24.  Charlie Strong takes the Keg of Nails home and eats each and every nail contained therein, because f-you, that's why.

This hard fought, dramatic win instantly moves expectation levels into the stratosphere.  Potential harbinger though: Cincinnati goes on to finish 4-8 (1-6) and replace Western Michigan as their official AAA affiliate with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

The stats are basically as close as the final score would indicate, although most of the Bearcats production comes in the 2nd half.  The bad guys record 20 first downs to our 19, 317 yards to our 381, 92 rushing yards to our 116, although they ran the ball 47 times, which had to have been frustrating to watch and helped to wear out our defense.  Cinci was more efficient on 3rd downs (36% to our 33%), fourth downs (2-2 v. 1-2) and in the red zone (3 trips, 3 TDs to our 6 trips, four TDs and a field goal, which still ain't bad frankly).  Both teams lost a fumble, and both QBs were INT free.  As the overkill on the rushing attempts shows, we lost the time of possession battle 33ish to 27ish. 

Froman has a decent game, going 22-40 with 265 yards and 4 TDs (and avoids the dreaded "Game Manager" label), Vic has a good day on the ground with 18 attempts for 82 yards, a move-the-sticks-if-you-gave-it-to-me-all-three-times 4.5 yards per carry.  The catches were spread around - three players with 4 (Pascley, Harris and Doug), all of whom had a touchdown.  Two players with 3 (Vic and CmGrm) and Chichester and Meagher with 2 apiece.  CmGrm had the most yards by far, 83 on the day, while Pascley and Harris both apparently caught bubble screens all day, averaging 4.5 and 6.5 yards per catch respectively and respectfully, because Charlie Strong makes his players respect the game and women.

Gregg Scruggs (GrgSrgs?) and Brandon Heath led the way for the defense, and Mike Privott chipped in with a bunch of assisted tackles, a fumble recovery and a team-high 3 tackles for loss.  7 players combined for 5 sacks, while the O-line only gave up 2 sacks.

Overall, a close game against a hated conference rival on a Friday night ends up with a dramatic, last-minute TD for a victory.  Expectations....dangerously....increasing....

Game 7 (6-0, 1-0) - Connecticut @ Louisville

I hate UConn.  Basketball, football, women's basketball, the high school friends of some people I went to college with, their football coach....just lots of stuff about the state that are objectionable.  I think of all of these things as I sit and watch a rainy, cold October Saturday tilt between these Huskies (I do like the actual dog breed huskies, which makes me even madder at them for stealing such a good mascot!) and the Cards at PJCS.  The rain's pain falls mainly on the offense, as the teams struggle to move the ball in the first half.  We trade field goals for a 6-3 Cardinal lead with 6:48 to go in the second quarter.  But thirty seconds later, Zach Fraser finds Griffin on a 55-yard TD pass on busted coverage (no doubt Randy Edsall tripped Champ Lee on the sideline or something) and UConn takes a 10-6 lead into halftime.

Philpott cuts it to 10-9 with about 3:00 to go in the 3rd quarter, breaking what must have been a boring scoring drought amidst the terrible weather.  UConn answers back with another TD pass (22 yards) with 14:27 to go in the fourth quarter for a 17-9 lead.  Philpott cuts it to 17-12 with 8:06, which should be plenty of time to score the game winning TD in dramatic fashion.  

But it is not to be.  Turnovers plague the good guys all game, and one of them no doubt occurs during the potentially game-winning drive as the Cards fall, 17-12. 

The offense actually moved the ball well, better than UConn, going for 21 first downs (compared to their 14), 329 total yards (their 311) 122 yards on the ground (their 46) and 2-3 on 4th down.  However, turnovers are the story: the Cards had 2 fumbles and an INT, and could only manage to pick off UConn once.  UConn also had more yards in the air, thanks mainly to that 55 yard TD catch.  Even more frustrating than a loss is that this appears to be a game where we were the better team, and UConn does end the season 4-8 (2-5) so they aren't really that good. 

Ahh, here's the real story of this game: Adam Froman was 4-4 with 65 yards until something happens so that Will Stein played the rest of the game, going 15-34 with the aforementioned interception.  UConn also apparently figured out Vic Anderson, holding him to 19 yards on 8 carries.  Darius Ashley, despite my attempt to move him to CB, ran the ball 19 times for 68 yards.  Cameron the Grahamnificent (?) caught 7 balls for 90 yards but couldn't get into the end zone, and Vic caught 2 balls, one of which went for 34 yards on what was surely an exciting play.  Anderson and Stein accounted for the fumbles, the latter's likely coming as a result of one of his 4 sacks. 

The defense did what it could but could not win the game with only 12 points. Scruggs had 14 tackles (including 7 for a loss) to lead the way, but no one else had more than 5 and a host of Cardinal tacklers had 4.  Not much to speak of from special teams, except Philpott accounting for all 12 points. 

Whatever.  We'll always have "Refuse the ball screen" and "I f-ing love you man", so suck on that Edsall. 

Game 8 (6-1, 1-1) - Louisville @ Pitt

Charlie Strong attempts to become only the second Cardinal football coach in recorded human history to win his first road Big East game (remember who was first?  Weird, huh?) and get the taste of last week's frustrating defeat out of his mouth as the Cards travel to Pittsburgh on a Saturday night.  It was a rough week here, as you can imagine - mainly the question being, who starts this week?  Luckily, Adam Froman is okay, but either being dinged up or finally facing a good defense combine to produce his worst outing of the season, 21-45, 158 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Who lines up under center for Pitt?  None other than Tino "Krag's Top Recruit" Sunseri.  We're excited about Dominque Brown and DeMarcus Smith, of course, and Froman is having a heck of a season, but Tino would have been a good fit.  Sunseri shows us what we are missing out on early, connecting on a 9 yard TD pass to Jon Baldwin and a 21 yard TD pass to M. Cruz in the first and second quarters for a 14-0 lead.  Expectations, downgraded.  This sucks.  Philpott continues his streak of carrying the scoring load, connecting from 20 yards out (red zone has to equal TD boys) with 5 minutes to go in the half. 

The second half starts off with defense, and the Cards finally break the touchdown drought with, who else, Cameron Ulysses Graham from 5 yards out.  We are in business at 14-10, and the defense needs to keep us in the game.  They do for a possession, but our next possession is fruitless, and Dion Lewis punches it in from 3 yards out with 4:42 left in the third quarter for a 21-10 lead.  Philpott gets us back to within a touchdown with 12:00 to go in the fourth, but we cannot break through.  Pitt hits a clinching FG with 5 minutes left, and the Cards drop two in a row for the first time since, well, pretty recently, 24-13.

Unlike last week, Pitt was the better team today (and would be better than many in the Big East, finishing 5-2).  Pitt racks up 293 yards (114 on the ground) and 16 first downs to the Cards' 209 yards and 18 first downs.  UofL is held to 51 yards on the ground on 36 carries, and Froman has the rough day, as you are well aware.  Pitt really dominates on 3rd down - 11-19 when trying to convert, and 16-23 preventing us from converting.  Put another way, we converted only 7 of our 23 attempts on third down, but 3 of 5 on 4th down.  Going for it 5 times on 4th down? Probably not a good sign in terms of whether you are winning the game or not.  Unless you are playing it on PS3 against your little brother just to teach him life lessons while up 63-10.  IRL this was the other way around, as my little brother is 10000x better than me at video games.

Sunseri was actually picked off twice (both by Champ Lee) and the Cards won the turnover battle 2-3, but could not convert apparently.  Vic Anderson struggled, getting the ball 20 times via handoff or other non-forward pass, but only gaining 47 yards.  Froman spread the ball around and did not really throw it long much: 4 catches for an average of about 27 yards total receiving each for Doug, Meagher, Graham and Harris, and the longest reception of the day was 14 yards (Meagher and Anderson each had one of those) which means lots of moving the ball, but lots of stalled drives.

After two straight losses, I think this image sums up what all of us are going through:




Not anger, that's for sure.  I mean, we knew this going in, right?  We'd take 6-2 to start the season.  Right? Well, no use crying over spilled milk and an impotent red zone offense, as my mom used to say.  She didn't really but I bet Charlie Strong's did. Onto the Dome, where the Syracuse Orange actually end up the season with a winning record: 7-5 (3-4).  Was one of those 7/3 against us? Let's find out as we look at....

Game 9 (6-2, 1-2) - Louisville @ Syracuse

Two programs, back from the brink of extinction under failed leadership, are not-watched-outside-their-metro-areas on the Saturday noon Big East Game of the Week in non-HD with 4th string announcers.  But everyone else besides us misses out on a good game, as you will soon learn.

The Orange strike first, hitting a field goal to account for the only scoring in the first quarter, and Cards fans sink lower into sadness after a 39 yard TD run by D. Carter puts the Cuse up 10-0.  It gets worse: 13-0 is a tough hole to climb out of, especially with orange citrus acid squirted into your eyes, as Lichtenstein adds a 22 yard field goal with 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.  10-9 this one ain't.

It takes until 5:24 left in the half, but finally, a breakthrough: Vic Anderson breaks through the secondary for a 42-yard TD run, the longest for him this season.  Finally, some open space and his speed make the difference.  A quick 3-and-out or turnover, and we have the ball on the doorstep with 2:37 left in the first half.  Froman enters the door with a 5-yard play action pass to a wide-open Zach Meagher.  Just like that, we have a 14-13 lead.  Take that, you Orange bastard.  It was funny last year, and it's funny this year. 



Lichtenstein has the lowest field goal distance per letter in his last name ratio in college football, but the 49-yarder he hits with 1:05 to go in the half gives them a 16-14 halftime lead nonetheless, and some momentum.  But at halftime, Mr. Momentum switches jerseys and Philpott answers with a not-as-long-but-more-efficient-by-last-name-letters 48 yard FG for a 17-16 lead.  Beaumont breaks the second longest touchdown-less drought of his career (the first being his entire career) and catches a 6-yard pass from Froman with 4:06 left in the third quarter for a 24-16 lead.  Really, with all the touchdown passes of less than 10 yards this season, either our running game is terrible down there, or teams can't figure out how to guard the 5-wide or play action.  Either way, that's a ton of short TD passes. 

Can the defense hang on in the fourth quarter with the pressure of a regional afternoon telecast audience surely stuck in their minds?  Early on, they give Syracuse a chance - a 4 yard TD pass from Nassib to V. Chew gets the Cuse to within 2.  But the two point conversion fails!  The 2 point conversion fails!  Strong pumps his fist once and then stoically turns to the return team and tells them to wedge-block their balls off. 

The teams trade defensive stops, and the game is in the balance with the Cards leading 24-22 late in the 4th quarter.  Our last drive stalls at the 37, and Strong calls for Philpott to boot one.  Which he does - a 52 yard field goal puts us up 27-22 with 2 minutes to go.  Syracuse's last drive ends with a fumble recovered by James Miller, and the cards hold on for the 27-22 victory.

Syracuse outplayed us for the most part - 17 v. 13 first downs, 353 v. 267 total yards, 140 v. 119 rushing yards, equal third down conversions, equal turnovers.  But the Cards scored 2 TDs in their 3 red zone trips, which the Cuse was held to 1 TD and 2 FGs in 3 trips.  And, the most critical play of the game, the Cuse's two point conversion failed.  Syracuse was also penalized 9 times to our 5, 84 yards to our 57. 

Froman and Stein split time, and Stein does better this time - 7-14 with 80 yards and no picks.  Froman had the 2 TD passes on a 10-24 day, also no picks.  The game ball belongs to Vic Anderson - 21 attempts, 122 yards, and the huge TD run.  Beaumont had a breakout game, with 4 catches for 73 yards (a lot of them coming on a 35 yard catch) and the TD.  Another game with mostly short throws spread out among lots of people - Chichester had 4 along with Doug to lead the team in catches. 

Scruggs has come back to earth the last few games, in the middle of the pack with 5 tackles.  Canady led the squad with 9, and a bunch of other guys had a couple tackles each.  Miller had the play of the game, recovering the Syracuse fumble to ice the game and send the Cards home into the final stretch of the season on a 1-game winning streak.

Sitting at 7-2, 2-2, the Cards have their toughest stretch of the season left: USF, WVU, @ Rutgers.  But at 7-3, we are assured of a bowl, and we have an outside shot at the Big East championship with 3 straight wins. 

Does this exceed your expectations?  What would your expectations be at this point in the season, considering the best teams are left to play and we have lost to some bad Big East teams and barely beaten the others? 

We'll find out together.....just as soon as I can get around to writing Part 3.  May not be until mid-September.  Probably not....just trying to manage your expectations.