It wasn't the ideal start and it surely wasn't a perfect performance, but there's was a great deal of resolution to virtually everything that plagued this Louisville team throughout a bumpy 2015 in Saturday's come from behind 38-24 win at Kentucky. Louisville gets the rivalry-centered satisfaction of having kept Kentucky out of a bowl game for the second straight season. The Cardinals became the first team since the rivalry was renewed annually in 1994 to win five consecutive games. They also tied the all-time series at 14 wins a piece, removing the last trump card of your never-ending office arguments with the guy in the pod across from you. Beyond that, here are a handful of other observations from the game.
The quarterback position is resolved, once and for all. Louisville started three quarterbacks this season and never the same one for more than five games. With the way Kyle Bolin played in the second half against Virginia, the first half at Pittsburgh, and on the road at Kentucky Saturday, there really can't be any further debate that whatever his current struggles (bailing out on pass plays too soon, being uncomfortable under center, etc) Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, should be the quarterback, and will remain the quarterback heading into the bowl game, spring football, and next fall.
We finally got to see old Bobby in his new offense. We all recall Bobby running variations of the same play over and over and building off of it to punish defenses that can't or won't adjust. Saturday, we got a good dose of that. There were several examples of this that might warrant a longer post, but here's one taste. Three consecutive plays.
2nd and 10
Louisville lines up with 3 receivers to the right, a tight end to the left, Jackson in the pistol, and Radcliff directly behind him. On this play, Jackson reads Denzil Ware, who stands still, gives the ball to Radcliff who goes up the middle for 7 yards.
AJ Stamps, prior to the snap, races to get over closer to the left side of the field where the three WRs are then has to race back to the middle on the option to help finish off the tackle.
3rd and 3
Louisville comes out in exactly the same formation, once again on the left hash and runs the exact same play. The difference is, this time Ware (#35) drifts inside after Radcliff so Jackson keeps it and goes left for a big gain.
Once again Stamps (#1) is forced to come all the way over from the other side where he should be on top of the 3 WRs and help push Jackson out of bounds.
1st an 10
Basically the same formation except this time Louisville has Radcliff to the right of Jackson in the shotgun and fakes the handoff to him moving to the left. The motion of the running play to the left and Stamps having to trek all the way across the field the previous two plays is too much for him. He gets hung up by the play action and winds up not nearly deep enough in the middle and too far to offer Blake McClain help on James Quick for the touchdown pass.
Again, look where the single high safety AJ Stamps winds up as the ball is arriving to James Quick.
Mark Stoops can't find a quarterback that can play against Louisville. It was asking a lot to think Drew Barker would do much of anything against Louisville's defense in what was ostensibly his first career start against a decent team. But, Barker's performance is indicative of a trend. Despite Louisville starting 10-11 different guys at corner and safety in 2013, 2014, and 2015, Stoops' Kentucky teams have yet to complete 50% of their passes in a game against Louisville.
It's remarkable Louisville was able to overcome the personnel losses. You might believe Louisville would overcome a 21-0 and 24-7 deficit to win the game against Kentucky, but I doubt you'd have believed that they'd overcome that deficit on the road despite playing without the team's leading receiver (Jamari Staples), the team's leader in sacks (Trevon Young), and losing its leading tackler in the first half due to injury (Keith Kelsey). But it did. The loss of Trevon Young was especially rough because the team didn't learn of his suspension until the morning walkthrough prior to the game. There was no time to prepare for his and Hearns' absence and yet they still held Kentucky to 4.62 yards per play, its 3rd lowest output of the season.
There was some especially juicy contrasts in Saturday's game. If nothing else, through most of his first two seasons Mark Stoops fired people up on his ability to recruit (justifiably, the man can recruit). Saturday, it was hard to ignore:
- The highly-rated quarterback that had been on campus for two years (Barker) was getting completely outplayed by the less-heralded freshman that was coming off the bench and had been on campus about 5 months (Jackson).
- The Kentucky receivers that garnered so much attention on signing day 2013 (Dorian Baker, Ryan Timmons, Garrett Johnson, Jeff Badet, et al). unable to find space to catch passes against slightly lesser heralded guys like Trumaine Washington, Chucky Williams, Jaire Alexander and company.
- Matt Elam, the five-star defensive lineman, the publicly celebrated head to head win over Alabama, was dominated by Louisville's much-maligned walk-on center Tobijah Hughley and JUCO guard Kiola Mahoni making his second start at weak guard. Here's a still from the 2nd down run from the .gif above. You can see Elam at least four yards off the ball being driven by Mahoni and Hughley. Elam recorded zero stats against Louisville on Saturday.
It wasn't perfect. Not even close. How the staff arrived at the decision to start Bolin in the first place remains a mystery. The defense being completely asleep on the opening drive wasn't great either (slow starts against teams hoping for an upset have plagued this team). But, unlike me personally, the coaches and players never seem to have panicked and after absorbing the 21-0 punch from Kentucky, ended the season with a confidence building dominating effort in the final three quarters.