By Andrew Phelps
If you were magically transported back in time to the sweltering August summer, thrown into the fires of every single heated pre-season football debate, and proclaimed a prediction of Louisville football achieving a 10-1 record, but locked out of any hope of a BCS game, what would the reaction have been? People would have called you pessimistic and delusional, and your closest friends would have surely distanced themselves.
Yet, here we stand Cardinal fans, one game remains on the 2013 slate and our team is fighting for their lives to play in Orlando on December 28th. How could a season that began with so much promise and hype, end with such emptiness and honest disappointment? The team has appeared absentminded and uninspired in recent weeks, but a nationally televised rivalry game to cap off the year provides the team with an opportunity to seize a much needed and renewed sense of hunger and determination. 11-1 and ranked in the top 15 is nothing to hang one's head about, the sting of this season might linger for years to come, but our coaches, our seniors, and our hero under center have no choice but to finish strong.
Looking at the game scheduled for 7:30 Thursday night, the biggest cause for concern as of now is the weather. Even though our offense has been as effective and exciting as a senior citizen track and field competition, consistent rain and cold temperatures will negate the best and most talented aspect of our team, the Cardinal passing attack. If the rain pours, we will be forced to rely heavily on our run game, and since UofL is ranked 84th in rushing offense and Cincinnati ranks 4th in rushing defense, this recipe does not bode well for our Birds.
The offensive playbook has gotten smaller and smaller each game, and hit a real cause for concern against Memphis when even the drunkest fan on the party deck could predict each play the home team was running. If I could add something to my Christmas wish list it would be this, have some damn fun for four straight quarters and throw everything at the Bearcats including the kitchen sink. We are not playing for anything but 11-1 pride at this point, might as well loosen up the reigns a bit coaches. I want to see reverses, flea flickers, crossing routes, fake punts, fumblerooskis, and even the annexation of Puerto Rico. (If you did not understand this Little Giants reference, you have a mission before kickoff). There is no reason to leave anything on the field coaches, have some fun with the offense, go out with a bang, and even if we lose, if the offense performs, fans will feel better after Thursday's night than they have in every post game since the Florida International game.
The defense needs to merely keep doing what they do best. The Cardinals are number one in the nation in touchdowns allowed, and for all of the recent criticism of this team and coaching staff, that is a major accomplishment and proof in the pudding that Charlie Strong does know how to coach that side of the ball. With several seniors on the defensive side, a Cincinnati native in Preston Brown, a fresh-from-suspension Calvin Pryor, and the national sack leader Marcus Smith our defense should have no issue preventing the Bearcats from crossing the goal line. If we can hold Cincinnati to under 23 points, victory should be ours.
The Keg of Nails rivalry is underrated, uncharacteristically special, and a mainstay in Louisville lore. Kragthorpe and Cooper years aside, the Cardinals have owned the rivalry since 1988, winning 13 times to just five losses. This is certainly a game that needs to be played, the fans enjoy it, our players seem to love it, and it will always provide an opportunity for a quality win. Back in August, this game was supposed to determine the BCS bid for the American Athletic Conference. Now, Thursday night will merely provide one team with the chance of achieving 11 wins for only the fourth time in school history. 2013 did not go the way Cardinal Nation envisioned or planned, and it certainly will not end the way we imagined in our dreams, but 11-1 is knocking at our door. It is finally time for our beloved birds to seize an opportunity before them and finish strong.
All Hail UofL !!
In other news Auburn, if they win the SEC, deserves to play for the National Championship. First, they slayed the king. Alabama has won three of the last four titles, and the SEC has won seven straight. Currently, there are more ranked teams on UofL's schedule than Ohio State's. No one wants to watch Ohio State get slaughtered in another title game, and any team that gives up 35 to Illinois, 41 to Michigan, 34 to California and 30 to Northwestern will be manhandled by Jameis Winston. I graduated from South Carolina and I am a UofL and SEC homer. Go Cards and Go Cocks!