Since posting the first part of this series, the global and local aspects of being a Louisville football fan in 2012 diverged further. The good: fall practice opened, and the amount of healthy, experienced talent available this season and 2013 is the highest it has ever been. It was hard to imagine expectations being higher, but after 2 days of watching the team run some drills in shorts and helmets, well, people are excited. The bad: Friday brought more rumors of Charlie Strong being unhappy with the conference situation and possibly leaving after this season, with the last man standing in the Courier-Journal's sports department discussing the possibility of Charlie Strong leaving (and then calling out @CardChronicle for posting a summary of what he said, which was weird because, dude, everyone needs to chill out and stop blaming Mike for the decline of traditional sports media and/or your own non-traditional media's inability to provide a reasonable income) on local radio.
This entire season feels like it will be that push and pull: trying to enjoy the present, trying to remain hopeful about the future but deep down wondering, what if this is all we get? Is this our last real shot before being relegated to semi-permanent second tier status in the college football world? And as we move forward in the simulated season, there is pressure on all sides: pressure on the team to rebound from a brutal loss to North Carolina and a close, ugly win at FIU, pressure on the fans to do their part to keep Strong here, pressure on the administration to keep us from being shut out in the cold. The only choice is to charge straight into the cannon to the front: @USM, @Pitt, USF and Cinci, also known as the toughest part of the schedule.
After the jump.
Game 5 (3-1, 0-0) - Louisville @ Southern Miss
And forward in this context means traveling to the hinterlands of Southern Mississippi, a reminder of our football past but hopefully not our football future. Hothot has gone on record saying that Southern Miss is this year's FIU, but I think he is just a degenerate gambler looking to parlay one lucky guess into a decade of online internet prediction credibility. Or he could just know a lot about real college football and not waste all of his time in the video game world and/or raising a small child. Either way, Corvin Lamb starts things off with a 9 yard TD run in the 1st quarter to break a scoreless tie, and the Cards add a couple field goals in the 2nd quarter to take a 13-0 halftime lead. The defense holds Southern Miss scoreless through 3 quarters as Teddy calls his own number and runs it in from 3 yards out for a 17-0 lead.
SMU hits a lucky 48 yard field goal to erase the shutout early in the 4th quarter, but an Eli Rogers 20 yard TD catch and another Corvin Lamb TD run, this time from 5 yards out, puts the emphatic exclamation point on a 34-3 beatdown.
The Cards used a monster day from the running backs - 52 carries for 268 yards - to control the game, racking up 414 yards on only 14 pass attempts to go with the 52 carries. Yikes. Southern Miss moved the ball okay through the air - 172 yards, but was only 10-33 passing and had 5 interceptions.
This line - 10-32, 172, 4 INTs - was good for a 51.3 pass rating for USM's QB, while Teddy's 8-14, 146 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT was a 154 rating. Teddy continued to run the ball way more than all of us hope he does this year, carrying it 21 times for 96 yards. Since he was sacked twice, most of those must have been option runs. Anyone know how to switch us to the West Coast offense? Since that's what we run IRL? Anyway, Lamb got the bulk of the carries, 22 for 109 yards and the 2 TDs, with Perry also getting 8 for 56. Sounds like I may have been a little too generous with Lamb and Perry's ratings, since Dominique Brown figures to get most of the carries, at least early in the season, barring some superstar camp for Lamb/Perry/Wright.
Anyway, since there wasn't much throwing, there weren't many catches: Rogers had 3, Parker and Harris 2 each, although the throws were apparently downfield since their averages were 19.6, 10 and 28.5. Not sure how to make the computer simulate our expected 8-WR/TE sets we will run, since apparently we go 12 deep before the Clemson guy gets here and not including the best WR on the team who is sitting out for the transfer year. If someone figures out how to do THAT, please tweet it to me.
The defense really dominated this game, and the UofL Linebackers Brought To You By UPS combined for 20 tackles and 2 INTs, leading the way. Bushell, Gaines and Deon Rogers all each recorded INTs, with Bushell and Gaines both taking theirs back for 20 yards or more to set up scores, I assume and you cannot prove me wrong.
This game went so bad for Southern Miss that the "Players of the Game" feature for them picked: D. Wilson and the stat line is: "ATK." Must have been one hell of an assisted tackle. Way to be, D. Wilson.
So hopefully for the last time, the Cards leave Hattiesburg, MS, and start Big East play against....
Game 6 (4-1, 0-0) - Louisville @ Pittsburgh
The two worst and most infamous losses of Charlie Strong's career were against Pitt. In his first season, the UK loss could be chalked up to Randall Cobb and to Steve Kragthorpe. The Cinci losses were both close and against frankly better teams. The Pitt loss in his first season still counts as the largest margin of victory and one of the worst played games by a Louisville football offense of my lifetime. This game is infamous because of the controversial "On Froman" piece. Last year's because, of course, Call To Duty (sic). IRL and in the game, this is the hurdle we need to get over. If we can get through our non-conference schedule undefeated, this being the first game on the Big East schedule is a huge, huge deal.
And the players seem to know that, marching down field on the opening drive and scoring on a 2 yard TD pass to Chris White. But Pitt answers back, scoring on a 1 yard TD run on the ensuing drive, then getting the ball back and scoring a few minutes later on a 13 yard pass from T. Sunseri. Weird that the game would make this mistake, Sunseri graduated like 3 years ago right? (checks internet) Whaaaa???!!! I guess that's how other teams must feel about, I dunno, Andrell Smith, assuming they have read our pre-season breakout performer prediction tweets and posts for the last 4 years.
Anyway, the Cards respond and respond well: another Chris White TD (this time 6 yards) ties it up in the 2nd quarter, and Jermaine "The Dream" Reve (can we call Hakeem Smith and Reve "The Dream Team" when they are in together on the nickel or is that weird and too obscure?) returns an INT 40 yards to put us up with 10 minutes to go in the second quarter. Eli Rogers catches a late TD pass from Teddy, his third of the first half, to give the Cards a 28-14 lead at intermission.
The third quarter is scoreless until a few minutes left, as Sunseri cuts it to a 1-score game with an 8-yard TD pass. And in their first drive of the 4th quarter, Sunseri does it again, connecting on a 1 yard TD pass to tie the game at 28. Infamy is putting on her topcoat and getting ready to leave the house as the teams trade turnovers and stops. It appears to be heading to OT, when Ted Bridgewater again calls his own number (which would seem to give the play away if you called the number of the guy who was going to get the ball, but I never played so I won't question this) and runs it in from 3 yards out with 2:16 to go in the game. The defense holds, and the final score is 35-28. Cards Win. Cards......win. Charlie Strong beats Pitt and the train is picking up some momentum.
The close score is reflected in the stats: 404 total yards for the good guys to 338 for the Pitt guys, with even numbers on the ground (38-167-1 for us, 40-171-1 for them) but a more efficient passing attack for us - 15-28 for 237 yards against 16-32 167 yards, although both teams connected on 3 TD passes. Both teams had 2 INTs but Pitt lost a fumble and one of our INTs went for a TD.
Teddy won it for us, accounting for 4 TDs, all of the passing yards and 75 of the yards on the ground net of the 3 sacks. He called his own number 19 times (did they never figure this out?) and moved the chains. Lamb and Perry both were not used that much, getting 39 and 40 yards on a few carries. Eli Rogers had 1 carry for -4 yards, which can only mean one thing: JETSWEEP still doesn't work.
Chris White had a monster day, procuring 5 balls for 91 yards and 2 TDs, including a 41 yarder that must have been slow motion and awesome. 79 YAC for White is a pretty impressive number of YAC. Park, Rogers and Harris each caught 3 balls for 50, 25 and 43 yards, and only Eli had a TD among the WRs. Jarrett Davis (no one has mentioned him from fall practice yet, but didn't he look really good in the spring? Seriously can we play 9 WRs on the same play just once this year?) had his first catch that I can remember and it went for 28 yards, 16 of those of the YAC variety.
BJ Dubose had a day, 9 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack. The LBUPS got it done again, and Reve had that 40 yard TAINT. Hakeem Smith had the other INT and also recovered the fumble caused by Marcus Smith and took it 12 yards in the right direction.
Team effort, team win, and the Cards come home to face a preseason rival USF Bulls team that will ultimately have a disappointing season.
Game 7 (5-1, 1-0) USF @ Louisville
Since the last two years have eliminated one of the commentators go-to talking points during this game, the commentary this year focuses on hey did you know Charlie Strong and Skip Holtz used to be BFF? And a lot of these players played against each other in high school and know each other well?!?! WELL YOU DO NOW.
Anyway, on the field, Parker, who is neither BFF with Skip Holtz nor a former high school opponent of any South Florida Bull (I wrote this without checking but assume if I am wrong hothot or cardscott will correct me) catches a TD pass of 2 yards to start off the scoring about halfway through the first quarter. This is followed in the 2nd quarter by a field goal for a 10-0 lead, which should hold until half. But the Cards are able to tack on 7 more with a Lamb TD run with 1:30 left before halftime for a 17-0 lead.
The lead gets extended to an embarrassing 24-0 lead on the first drive of the 2nd half, as Eli Rogers catches a 28 yard pass from Bridgewater. USF finally gets on the board with a TD pass from BJ Daniels, who went in the same limo to prom with Tino Sunseri back in the late 1990s (fact checked this). Another Lamb TD run gets the Cards a 31-7 lead heading into the 4th quarter. The starters are likely pulled, leading to 2 garbage time USF TDs (including one with 11 seconds left) to make the final score a respectable, yet misleading 31-21 final score.
The only interesting stat was that the teams combined for 12 turnovers - 5 INTs by Teddy, 2 by Daniels, 4 fumbles lost by USF and 1 by us. Yikes. Chris White again led the offense with 8 catches for 107 yards and DeVante got back into things with 7 catches for 59 yards. Marcus Smith had a breakout game, 10 tackles, 5 of which were TFL, and 1.5 sacks. Hakeem Smith had both INTs, and Cal Pryor had 2 fumble recoveries that went for 40 yards, so that must have been exciting.
Train moving faster now. But the final cannon of this part of the schedule is right in front of them now: Cincinnati on a nationally televised Friday night game.
Game 8 (6-1, 2-0) Cincinnati @ Louisville
This is always a huge game, and with the train rolling the way it is and it being a Friday night, late starting game at PJCS, well, the crowd is hyped, not to WVU 2006 levels, but pretty darned hyped. After a few punts, Bridgewater calls his own number (did Cinci not watch any tape?) and runs it in from 2 yards out for a TD and a 7-0 lead. This holds through the second quarter, when Corvin Lamb breaks through from 4 yards out for a 14-0 lead. Pretty darned hyped. It looks like we are going to go into halftime up 14-0, which would be huge, but we lose a fumble (I assume this is what happens, there is 1 fumble for sure) and Munchie Legaux passes it for a 5 yard TD pass with 1:34 left in the half.
Cinci gets closer in the third quarter on a 44 yard field goal (this game cheats so bad at field goals) and things are tense heading into to the 4th quarter with the Cards barely hanging on, 14-10. This is where I would love to tell you that everything is going to be okay, that Cinci does not get a miracle TD with a few minutes left on the clock, causing a shell shocked Friday night PJCS crowd to wander in the October air back to their cars.
Well: everything is going to be okay. (The Wire spoiler alert) Bunny Colvin has adopted us. Teddy Bridgewater called his own number and ran it in from 2 yards out for a two score lead with 10 minutes left in the game, and a late INT sealed the win, 21-10 Cards. Boom. We are now 7-1 and 3-0 in conference play, including wins in 2 of the toughest games on the schedule historically for Charlie Strong and presently for the 2012 team.
Teddy had another rough-ish outing, going 18-36 with 0 TDs (but 0 INTs which is either an infinite improvement over last week's 5, or a 100% improvement, but either way more impressive than going from 1 INT to 0 even though the math is the same. Football needs advanced metrics maybe?) but he ran the ball well, 20 times for 95 yards and the 2 huge TDs, and managed the offense well. Parker and Harris had a bunch of catches (15 between them) but not a ton of yards, and Chris White followed his two crushing weeks with 1 catch for 12 yards.
On defense, Bushell had both the team's INTs to go along with 4 tackles, and Hakeem Smith led us with 6. Not a ton of tackles for the team for the game, which seems weird but who cares.
And so we head into the last phase of the season meeting expectations. This is where things should be at peak excitement, but even as I type this, I know things out of our control will be overshadowing this all. But in the precious present, things are about as good as they can be. Can't ask for much more than that.
What does the future hold? For the simulated season, you will only have to wait a few days (or just text me and I'll tell you). For real life the wait will be just a tad longer.