Thursday night was everything Louisville fans had envisioned and hoped for through 54 minutes of exhilarating powerhouse football. A false start, overthrown screen pass, and 3rd and 13 draw play changed everything as the Cardinals failed to execute yet again in crunch time. The National Champions and Heisman Trophy winner made big time plays, won a big time game, and left the Cardinals eliminated from ACC contention. The 2014 season will go down as another what if in Cardinal Football history, but Louisville should leave that discussion alone until January, tear off the rear view mirror, and defeat Boston College.
Louisville provided the country with one of the most entertaining games of the season, and proved to be a legitimate top 15 with a healthy DeVante Parker and Michael Dyer. The Cardinal defense was for real through three quarters, but the pace of the game and inability of the offense to stay on the field wore Grantham's unit out. This team needed Parker and Dyer from day one, and sadly Louisville now sits at 6-3 due to their injuries. If Louisville possesses the leadership to move forward and carry themselves as the 8-1 team they should be, the Cardinals have a great opportunity to finish the season with nine wins. A 9-3 record would be a great achievement given the injury problems and unexpected troubles of the quarterback position, and would most likely secure a bowl berth against a SEC opponent.
The glaring takeaway from the Florida State showdown was the 3rd and 4th down conversion comparison. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles converted 9/17 3rd or 4th down opportunities. Louisville was an excruciating 1/13. Winston and the Seminoles are National Champions for a reason, and even though he threw three interceptions Jameis consistently made the right play at the right time to lead his team to victory.
Louisville is missing a playmaker under center. If the offensive play call doesn't work perfectly, meaning the first option is open, the Cardinals have shown an inability to read the defense and move the ball forward. Louisville had multiple possessions Thursday with an opportunity to secure a monumental win, but the confidence and execution were simply not there. Gardner looks better with Parker on the field, but his accuracy and poise continue to be weaknesses.
This Cardinal football team has its fair share of strong leadership, and the seniors will be relied upon heavily this week as Louisville attempts to recharge the batteries and continue improving. As Coach Petrino stated, we will find out a lot about the makeup and character of this team come Saturday. Boston College is the final ACC game of the season and Louisville needs to capture their seventh win before their epic visit to South Bend.
I am not one for moral victories, but Louisville has nothing to hang their heads about. The Cardinals had the champs on the ropes and merely whiffed with their knockout blows. The better team won, but Louisville is only a few players away from reaching the level of a Florida State.
Louisville must now put all of its focus and strength into finishing 9-3 as a top 20 team. Boston College presents an interesting opponent. Their crowd doesn't appear to be intimidating, their quarterback is athletic but inaccurate, and they have a signature victory against Southern California. The Eagles are used to close games, and all of their losses were by 10 points or less. The run game will be crucial because Louisville needs to give their banged up defense as much rest as possible. These Cardinals are too competitive to roll over and play dead, and several players are still competing for individual awards and or draft position.
After a game like last Thursday, and during a season like 2014, it is easy for coaches, players, and fans to look back and endlessly debate "what if". Nothing has gone according to plan this season, but Louisville still has the ability to achieve success. What if can wait until January, Louisville has a statement to make over the final four weeks of the season, and the Cardinal March to 9-3 begins Saturday night in Chestnut Hill.
All Hail UofL!!