How about the weather? Saturday was a perfect football afternoon, and I hope you all basked in the sunlight and managed awkward sunburns because that could've been summer's curtain call. As for the actual play on the field... a win is a win and the only thing I would trade 4-1 for is 5-0. The Cardinals left a lot to be desired Saturday afternoon, but the bad can be fixed and the good is only going to get better.
Generally speaking, people would rather be given good news before the bad, but I'd rather get the ugly stuff out of the way first. Louisville has fallen in love with self-inflicted wounds, and the question is who do you blame? Sloppy ball security, incomprehensible penalties, and untimely dropped passes continue to stall and destroy promising drives and field position. Maybe we blame the 50 yard line? Every time the Cardinals approached midfield in the first half, or dared to step across it, someone, usually an offensive lineman, would take it upon themselves to seek out a yellow flag and stop seven points dead in its tracks. If a penalty wasn't sought and found, a running back would fumble the ball without contact and delight Wake Forest with perfect field position.
Louisville ranks 102nd in penalties and the offense was flagged seven times in the first half. Several of those stalled drives that had reached midfield, and one ruined a James Quick punt return into Wake Forest territory. The Cardinals also lost two fumbles in Wake territory without being hit by the opposition. John Wallace missed two field goals that could've helped build confidence and momentum. Discipline is defined as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience. Louisville is dire need of discipline on offense, Coach Petrino is the man for the job, but if the self-inflicted punishment doesn't disappear immediately, not reaching a bowl game becomes a serious reality.
Rinse the foul taste from your mouths and prepare for the good, the great, and the awesome. Kudos goes to the strength and conditioning staff. The Cardinals appear to be in phenomenal shape, and once again every member of the team was at their best in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Against Miami this fact inspired great hope for the season, on Saturday it was slightly infuriating. It makes no sense why our guys choose to flip a switch after 45 minutes of football and decide the fourth quarter is the only time to execute, remain disciplined, and run block like their lives depend on it. Louisville's offense was flawless in the fourth quarter, but that attitude needs to be with that unit from the coin toss until the final horn. The coaches, players, fans, and opposition witness the positive results that occur when Louisville chooses against beating themselves, and the Cardinals are a top 25 team when clicking on the majority of their cylinders.
The defense continues to astound. In my lifetime, the Cardinals have never had a defense this solid, fast, athletic, and aware. Louisville doesn't yield yardage to anyone, and thank goodness because more often than not their backs are straight up against the wall. Wake Forest gained 100 yards of offense... I know we haven't played the best our schedule has to offer, but there is no denying the appearance and evolution of NFL talent coupled with premier coaching. The Cardinal defense accepts its role as game saver and immovable object and they thrive in it.
Statistics don't always tell the full story, and in Louisville's case, even these impressive numbers sell the Cardinal defense a little short. The Cardinals are third in total defense, number one in rushing defense, number one in interceptions (Holliman also #1), ninth in total sacks (Mauldin is 6th in tackles for loss), ninth in scoring defense, and number seven in red zone defense. Louisville will have the opportunity to win every game thanks to Todd Grantham and the defense. If the offense plays up to half of its potential, winning the ACC is certainly achievable.
Last, and never least, the Reggie Bonnafon era commenced Saturday afternoon. Reggie was far from flawless, but overall I was encouraged and full heartedly believe he is the best option under center. First and foremost, Reggie was calm, cool, and collected in the pocket and never seemed scared of the moment. He made one huge blunder in his own end zone, but Reggie never once looked uncomfortable dropping back and looking downfield.
His teammates let him down early by stalling promising drives with senseless errors, and his timing was occasionally off on the 10-15 yard out routes, but his overall command of the offense was encouraging given the background of his recent circumstances and limited experience as quarterback. Reggie was at his best when the run game was working and Coach Petrino could utilize play action. Several of his throws were absolute beauties, thrown with confidence, accuracy, and strength. Reggie also impressed me with his speed and decisive direction changing movements. His legs offer an exciting option moving forward, and a mobile quarterback is essential to this lackluster offense. Reggie Bonnafon is our man, and as he continues to learn and improve his timing with the receivers, the Louisville offense should continue to progress while awaiting the return of Parker.
Saturday was not the game we wanted to see, nor the one we deserved, but the sun was out, the Cardinal defense was suffocating, and Louisville stayed alive in the race for an ACC crown. In football, and in life, you have to take the good with the bad. Louisville improved in the fourth quarter Saturday, and if the Cardinals commit themselves to discipline and fundamentals, shaking up the championship picture in October becomes a scenario worth imagining. All aboard Cardinal fans, the train is heading north.
All Hail UofL!!