Heading into its Saturday game against FCS opponent Samford, the Louisville football team has already tasted defeat three ties by a combined 13 points. In all three of those losses, the Cardinals have had an opportunity to either win the game or force overtime late in the 4th quarter. In a weird way, that fact has almost made the defeats more difficult to stomach.
This hasn't been your typical disappointing start to a college football season. UofL has dealt with key injuries and played arguably the toughest early season schedule in program history. The Cards are also much younger than just about anybody anticipated, getting a whopping 63 percent of their offensive production thus far from the freshman class.
Still, one fact above all others defines the current state of Louisville football: The Cardinals are 0-3 for the first time since 1984.
I was less than a month old when the '84 Cards began their campaign with a trio of losses, so I can't tell you if folks back then were freaking out over offensive line play, quarterback indecision or the then non-existent party deck inside the then non-existent Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, but I can tell you that all of those things are happening now.
In the Internet age, folks tend to react to adversity in extremes; either all the players are awful and the entire coaching staff needs to be fired, or everything's cool and the team's not going to lose another game all season. As with most things in life, the healthiest approach to Louisville's early season woes probably lies somewhere in the middle. I didn't like playing "Eye of the Tiger" against the Clemson Tigers any more than you guys did, but I'm also not going to shoulder it with the blame for UofL's 20-17 loss.
Utilizing absolutes when discussing sporting matters is typically an error in judgment, but here's a definitive statement that I feel pretty confident about: No one in the Derby City is more unhappy about Louisville football being 0-3 than Bobby Petrino.
During tough times, there is a strange tendency for some sports fans to envision their team's head coach sitting on a stack of his contract money, twisting his mustache like a cartoon villain. Petrino is fully aware that his name is more attached to UofL football than anyone else's, and that it's his reputation taking the hit when the Cards start a season 0-3, not the anonymous guy on Twitter who won't stop talking about how Tom Jurich needs to try and hire the ghost of Bill Walsh.
"I'm certainly uncomfortable being 0-3, it's not something we're used to, it's a new experience," Petrino said at his weekly press conference. "I don't think I've ever been 0-3 before. But what I know is, you keep working hard, keep a positive attitude and good things will happen."
Half-glass empty folks don't like hearing it, but it's impossible to talk about Louisville's 0-3 start without noting that the Cardinals are four or five plays away from being 3-0. This isn't a team that appears completely incapable of making a bowl game for a fifth straight year, or one which will assuredly be steamrolled by the bulk of their remaining ACC competition.
The other major coach on UofL's campus has seen the same thing, and says that from his own personal experience, the person in charge of make sure the ship is righted usually feels more of that burden than they let on.
"The biggest thing for a head coach during a losing streak is to not let it affect the way you do your job," Rick Pitino told 93.9 The Ville last week. "People assume it's only the players who who are affected, but coaches can get thrown off the path too. You have to shut out the noise and not allow it to change how you work. This is just a young football team that is going to wind up having a good season, and then is going to be one of the seven or eight best teams in the country next year."
No one in this city wants to be 0-3 less than Bobby Petrino, and no one is going to work harder to rectify the situation than the man in charge of Cardinal football.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune