As a program, Louisville is well past the point of seeing moral victories in defeats like the one suffered today. In a sold out neutral site game with a large contingent of its own fans there and a national television audience, Louisville dug itself a big hole and then almost dug out of it before falling 31-24 to #6 Auburn. The game was similar to Louisville's other opportunities to knock off a premier opponent since Petrino's return: close, more than respectable, fraught with mental mistakes, and fans walked away encouraged but wondering what might have been. Both glass half-empty and glass half-full people will find plenty to latch onto in Atlanta. Here's a look at it from each side
- If you outgain Auburn, outrush Auburn, outpass Auburn, run more plays than Auburn, get more first downs than Auburn, intercept Auburn three times, then you should beat Auburn. Hard to look at the final numbers and not feel like this was a truly missed opportunity to make a national statements.
- The offensive line was an unmitigated disaster for almost half the game. And the scariest part was it didn't appear to be issues with assignment as much as two interior linemen (Skylar Lacy more than Hughley or anyone else) routinely getting blown up or hammered back into the backfield. On one play, Lacy was pushed backwards so fast and so far he hit Bonnafon and Smith as they were meshing on an option play. Lacy was again blown up on the Bonnafon fumbled handoff that was returned for a score because his man beat the running back to the handoff. Why sign three junior college guys, one of which enrolled in January, and then not play them? I'd be shocked of the same lineup trots out against Houston (although the OL did look better in the second half).
- I don't fault Wallace for missing the 61 yarder, but, it's not good in a game this tight to be missing a 36 yard field goal.
- I'm not sure what we'll ever see of Reggie Bonnafon again because he definitely didn't make an effort to chase down the Auburn defender on the fumble return and he didn't see the field the rest of the game because of it. When Petrino said he looked "tired" at halftime, this is what he was talking about:
When Petrino said Bonnafon looked "tired" he probably meant he didn't chase the fumble recovery. At all. pic.twitter.com/vUyLAlePds— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) September 6, 2015
- To add to Bonnafon. His throws were more accurate and I don't think he made any terrible misreads or threw into coverage. But he's still indecisive and sluggish. His slowness in getting the team out of the huddle and lined up to leave time for audibles cost Louisville an early timeout and Petrino was livid. Later Bonnafon took an enormous sack that kept Louisville out of field goal range. These were the kinds of mistakes that he made last year and that you hoped he could be coached out of.
- The Louisville defense played well in this game. Nevertheless, it is somewhat surprising that they didn't manage to sack Johnson once (although, DeAngelo Brown was egregiously held not once but twice on plays where he almost certainly would've sacked Johnson. Both holds were called).
- Until there's a definitive answer on what happened with that timeout on Auburn's final possession, you can't help but be shocked at such a blunder. It was reminiscent of the spike on 3rd and goal at Clemson. You want to think it was some kind of misunderstanding with the officials. I hope it was. That was the kind of mistake Charlie Strong made.
- While I didn't expect Devonte Fields to come right out in his first game in major college football in two years and be unstoppable, I did hope he'd have more of an impact opposite Sheldon Rankins. For the first half he was mostly not a factor. In the second half he did seem to get warmed up and helped turn some of Auburn's wide runs back in. Hopefully he'll continue to round into form as Clemson draws closer.
- The injury bug crushed Louisville's receiving corps just one week into the season. James Quick's injury looked extremely serious. Emonee Spence left the game with injury. Alphonso Carter hasn't played this fall due to a serious nagging hamstring injury, Jamari Staples was injured late in the week and didn't play, and Cole Hikutini injured his shoulder landing after jumping for a catch.
- The Louisville defense held Auburn to the fewest total yards (327) since Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach. They intercepted three passes. Should have intercepted four or possible five. The pass rush didn't sack Jeremy Johnson but it did get pressure, especially up the middle, drawing penalties and forcing Johnson into several hurried throws. Outside of the single play where Washington got turned around for a touchdown, the new secondary more than held its own.
- I'm going to make a killing buying and re-selling old Lamar Alexander for President yard signs and bumper stickers. The opening play of the game notwithstanding, Lamar Jackson made things happen. A postgame show caller (TBG!) said it best, Reggie took what was given but Lamar made things happen. And Lamar Jackson didn't just run (although, he sure did run). He made several throws where he worked through the progression right to left and hit a crossing Samuel, threw a nice tight slant route on the last scoring drive, and hit Peete on the 36 yard throw. Does he have a long way to go and did he play mostly on instinct? Yes. But isn't this what you want to see from a guy thrust into the role? He was so good that he was named the player of the game in a losing effort. He should be the starter.
- While the injury bug badly depleted Louisville's receivers, the ones that played more than held their own against what the season will likely show is a very good defense. Louisville wound up playing almost entirely true freshmen (Emonee Spence, Devante Peete, Jaylen Smith, Traveon Samuel) , redshirt freshmen (Micky Crum), and sophomores (Charles Standberry, Javonte Bagley). Peete had a 30 yard catch, Samuel had a 12 yard catch and looked very fast running fly sweeps, Smith had a 16 yard catch and all looked like they belonged on the field against a top 10 team.
- Once Jackson had the Auburn defenders somewhat on their heels in fear of him taking off (Auburn played a lot more second half zone to help protect the lead and have defenders facing forward for Jackson), I thought the offensive line began to really assert itself on the edges. Radcliff and Jeremy Smith had big second halves and the inverted veer stuff (where Jackson puts the ball in the RBs belly and then reads whether to let him take it outside or run himself inside) was quite effective in the 4th quarter. It'll likely be a part of the offense on a regular basis because edge defenders and cornerbacks just aren't going to tackle Brandon Radcliff one on one.
- Geron Christian started as a true freshman and found himself lined up against Carl Lawson and other highly rated defensive linemen for Auburn and he more than held his own. For the most part Auburn's pressure was right up the middle over Lacy-Hughley-Sibiea. Seeing him play well against a very good front is promising for the future. I wouldn't be shocked to see Lukayus McNeil and Kenny Thomas fight to get into the lineup in some way soon as well.
- Louisville's three-headed monster at running back (Radcliff, Smith, and LJ Scott) looks good. In fact my biggest fear at running back is that none of them are incredibly fast. However, Radcliff and Smith both got to and around the edge more than once. I might have underestimated the speed of those two.