The wind was consistent and cold Saturday afternoon as Louisville battled N.C. State in a hard fought ACC showdown. Roughly half of the 50,000 in attendance managed to stay put all four quarters, and those in attendance were treated to an improved, yet stagnant Cardinal victory. It wasn't the game everyone had hoped for, but after eight straight weekends of competition, Louisville has compiled a 6-2 record, could be/should be 8-0, and has certainly earned some rest for the weary.
Louisville was a better football team Saturday in the most concerning departments of penalties and turnovers. For the first time this season against a FBS team the Cardinals committed zero turnovers. Also, Louisville's much maligned offensive line committed zero penalties and as a whole the offense only committed one penalty, a holding infraction against tight end Keith Towbridge. There were a few self-inflicted D'OH's, the Charles Gaines roughing the punter that led to a N.C. State touchdown comes to mind, but for 60 minutes Louisville finally showed an ability to not beat themselves. Hallelujah!
The offense I witnessed on Saturday was rejuvenated by the return of Spiderman and DeVante Parker's awesomeness was on instant display as he nearly housed the second play from scrimmage. For Parker to be that much better than everyone else on the field Saturday was beyond astonishing. We knew how special he was before the season began, but for him to dominate in his first game back when everyone, including the other team, knew he wasn't 100% can only mean better things for the final four games of the season. It was also encouraging to witness the return of the Championship MVP version of Michael Dyer who carried the load for Louisville in the backfield and was easily the second best player in pads Saturday Afternoon.
The Cardinal defense appeared tired, bruised, and not quite on their game. That type of performance wasn't foreseen, but it was certainly understandable and overdue. Louisville's defense has been lights out in seven straight games and has had the tortuous task of preventing all out disaster in six of those contests as the offense sputtered, stumbled, and did its best to hand the opponent touchdowns. Also, N.C. State compiled over 500 yards of offense and 41 points against Florida State. If anyone deserves a few days off its Todd Grantham, Mauldin, Sample, Holliman, and the rest of the best defensive unit in Cardinal history.
Even with Parker's massive impact the quarterback play was still average, and N.C. State's defense had done nothing impressive in 2014 coming into Saturday. However, in Gardner's defense the consistent wind certainly had an impact in quarter's one and three when Louisville was driving directly into the headwind. Will Gardner delivered some solid 5-10 yard passes, but he whiffed on some open downfield receivers. Louisville's offense is simply not good enough to overcome failed execution of wide open downfield opportunities. Gardner displayed better ball security which is a huge plus, but he still appears jittery in the pocket and gets rid of the ball before a lot of passing plays have time to develop.
Some time off to work on timing and Parker's rehabilitation should help the offense's goal of improvement, and we are all cheering for Gardner to get better because Reggie's inexperience is too much of a factor to overcome. Personally, I wish Reggie had an opportunity to play against a defense such as N.C. State with Parker on the field so the coaches and fans had something to compare Gardner's performance to, but Will is the man going forward and if he continues to focus on ball security Louisville will have a great opportunity to finish 10-2.
The only real disappointment from Saturday was the performance of the fan base. The "party deck" continues to result in thousands of empty seats and I am willing to wager the comforts of the PNC Club and Brown and Williamson were enjoyed by many. I try not to complain about the fans because their money has built this powerhouse athletic program. However, if your choice is to attend the game why is it so hard to remain in your seat until the outcome is actually decided. I have no problem leaving early if the game is out of reach, but for a brief juncture Saturday N.C. State had pulled within two points and there were maybe 25,000 left in attendance. The team needs fan support until a Cardinal victory is secure and it is embarrassing how many people value "beating traffic" over another 30 minutes of being a real fan. Rant over.
If a team in college football deserves a weekend off it is our Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals have competed for eight consecutive weekends and have successfully overcome crippling injuries, quarterback controversy, excruciating losses, self-inflicted punishment, and four road games. Louisville will be favored in two of its remaining contests, and October 30th will be the biggest home game in Cardinal history. Coach Petrino has won 22 straight at PJCS and I firmly believe the Seminole's streak will end next Thursday night. The home stretch of the 2014 season has arrived and before the quest for 10 wins begins, these Cardinals have undoubtedly earned some time to rest their feathers. Happy bye week Cardinal fans, 10 days and counting.
All Hail UofL!!