The regular season is over and Louisville finished up a entirely successful season by beating rival Kentucky in dramatic fashion. 9-3 in the first year under a new coach in a better league and keeping Kentucky home for the postseason yet again is about as good as anyone around here expected. With some time to rematch the game and think about it, here are a dozen thoughts on Louisville's regular season finale.
1. I can't eat enough crow about Kyle Bolin and his storybook performance. I never thought he'd be a factor at quarterback for Louisville after his performance in the spring and fall camp. I think he's a great teammate and works extremely hard, but I just had my doubts about his physical skills. For a Lexington kid that was passed over by Kentucky to come off the bench cold, having played not a single meaningful snap in college, and go 21 of 31 for 381 yards against the very team that ignored him is beyond implausible. In fact, you'd consider that that movie plot corny. Bolin was thrown directly into the fire (Petrino went empty set on his first two plays from scrimmage, actually forcing Kentucky to take a timeout).
It can't be said enough that Bolin's entrance into the game saved the game for Louisville. Reggie Bonnafon was not seeing the defense well at all and was not accurate in the few throws he made. With Louisville down 13-0 and Bonnafon lying on the turf, I was convinced the game was likely over. Instead, Bolin throws a touchdown two plays later. Then leads another touchdown drive to give Louisville a 14-13 lead. Then, after throwing an interception for a touchdown to Fred Tiller, he turned right around and led them right down the field for another touchdown shortly before halftime. He was unflappable. Even after Bud Dupree forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, Bolin lead the team to yet another go ahead score. Twice.
2. I understand why Stoops and Kentucky did it, but I really found distasteful all of the the of the pushing, grabbing, and shoving that was clearly deliberate by Kentucky. This was not two teams heated and it getting out of control. Because if anything, Louisville looked as flat as could be early on. This was intentional from Kentucky and ultimately I'm glad it wasn't rewarded. Just play the game.
3. If anything, the silliness wound up costing Kentucky when it mattered most. In the 3rd quarter, Mike Douglas hurried Bolin out of the pocket and he threw an incomplete pass on 3rd and 10. Douglas pushed Bolin out of bounds right in front of the Louisville bench and the flag gave the offense a new set of downs. The very next play was a 33 yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker.
4. Speaking of DeVante Parker, fans should appreciate that they just saw a once in a generation talent play his last game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Regardless of opponent, he simply could not be covered. To play in just five games and wind up with just shy of 800 yards is remarkable. As I finished up the postgame radio show I again thought if he had been healthy all year, there's no way Louisville loses at Virginia and probably wins at Clemson, too. He will be sorely missed in 2015.
5. Don't let anyone tell you that Bolin was just throwing it up to DeVante Parker, either. Yes, Parker caught 6 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Still, that left 15 completions for 201 yards to everyone else. Bolin was decisive and for the most part accurate, completing multiple passes to Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, James Quick, one to Dyer out of the backfield, and a long one to Gerald Christian.
6. People who didn't watch the game will only see a shootout score, but, this one wasn't nearly as close as the score might show. Kentucky scored two defensive touchdowns and had three field goal drives that traveled 33 yards, 26 yards, and -3 yards, all due to turnovers. Louisville turned the ball over four times and finished the game -2 in the turnover battle. And played 2/3 of the game with the third string quarterback. Yet, they outgained Kentucky by over 100 yards, held Kentucky to under 5 yards per play, and kept Towles under 50% throwing the ball. If Louisville hadn't helped, it could very easily have been as lopsided as several other of Kentucky's losses down the stretch (but give them credit, they did make the plays, too).
7. I was surprised at just how poorly Louisville ran the ball, but after rewatching the game, I understand a bit more about why that was. Kentucky had two things it really had to do to win, at least slow down the run and at least slow down DeVante Parker. It's impossible to really do both. So they clearly decided to take the occasional chance with Parker and load up the box. They kept 8 guys near the box a lot and brought a ton of run blitzes. Still, even on downs where the numbers were even, the offensive line didn't run block well at all. God bless Charlie for all he did to resurrect Louisville football, but, he didn't leave much on the offensive line and what he did leave is pretty much gone after this season. Petrino will need multiple JUCO OL that can come in and help right away and hope that last year's three signees can help after a redshirt season.
8. James Quick redeemed himself in this one. He had three catches for 50 yards and one really big one late. On 3rd and 9, Bolin somehow managed to escape a really good Kentucky pass rush and rolled to his right. He threw to Quick on the far sideline who made a great catch for 29 yards while getting hit to keep the drive alive. This was the drive that started at their own 4 yard line after Radcliff caught the kickoff with his knee down. If Louisville had been forced to punt from its own end zone, it would've given Kentucky yet another short field and a chance to extend a 33-28 lead to two scores.
9. This was a fitting way for the seniors and several others of the recruiting class of 2011 to go out. I think it's probably beyond debate that this was the most successful senior class in school history. They never lost to Kentucky, they crushed Florida in the Sugar Bowl, they crushed Miami in Orlando and at home, they won at West Virginia, they won at Notre Dame, and they even ended the bizarre streak at South Florida.
10. It's a credit to the upperclassmen and coaches that the team went 9-3 despite all of the challenges this season. Louisville never started the same quarterback more than four games in a row. They had three different quarterbacks throw at least 20 passes in a game. They lost DeVante Parker two weeks before the season started and only had him for the final five games. They played innumerable offensive line combinations all year. It's a credit to the defense that they were often the ones that turned short fields into field goals instead of touchdowns, turned the ball back over so many times, and otherwise kept games from getting away until the offense settled in.
11. I'm not convinced Kentucky will be better in 2015. There's no doubt they're recruiting well, but, they're going to be breaking in a new offense and even if they weren't, Towles had a really subpar second half of the season. Boom Williams was amazing and should be a star in 2015. Still, they lose Bud Dupree (who is awesome) Zadarius Smith, Mike Douglas, and Nate Willis off the defense. They lose Javess Blue, Demarco Robinson, Darrian Miller, and tight end Steven Borden. They have an even bigger junior class. They'll have to cash in next year because 2016 will actually be a really young team all over again).
12. Spring football is going to be fascinating to watch at quarterback. You have to think Kyle Bolin stays and battles for the starting job with Kyle Ferguson. The wild card could be Chason Virgil, a pretty highly rated high school quarterback out of Texas that visited for Kentucky and could enroll in January and go through spring practice. The offense could look very different in 2015 and spring might not even show us what it will look like. If Bonnafon's knee injury is serious he still might return for fall camp. We'll have to see how it plays out.