Shocked, appalled, embarrassed, confused, and downright pissed off are just a few of the adjectives I would have used to describe the Louisville Football fan base as it slowly walked out of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium this past Saturday afternoon. The reality that the 2016 regular season, once overflowing with momentum and promise, had come to end with the Cardinals losing their last two games squarely hit home shortly after UK's kicker, Austin MacGinnis, etched his name into Governor's Cup lore by kicking the game winning field goal. Another reality that quickly set in following that kick was something that many UofL fans, myself included, were not prepared to embrace.......Louisville had lost at home on Senior Day to it's former on-field punching bag in Kentucky.
But allow me to give credit where it is certainly due.
Kentucky came into Saturday's game believing they could win. That belief was quickly put on display in the first quarter when the Cards and Lamar Jackson literally punched them in the mouth by taking the ball straight down the field and running it in for a touchdown only to see UK bounce right back off the mat and score on its first offensive play from scrimmage. And that play (75 yd TD pass hauled in by Garrett Johnson) would set the tone for what would be one of the most frustrating days in Louisville secondary history.
The rest is now history but not an afterthought. Kentucky pulled off, in my opinion, the biggest upset between the two schools since the Governor's Cup was started back in 1994. In addition, the loss by Louisville prompted more questions than answers and certainly helped to create more skeptics than believers in the current coaching staff and roster.
In all seriousness, what in the hell happened to this Louisville Football team following the heart breaking loss in Death Valley? THAT is the million dollar question.
I'm not sure the air was slowly let out of the balloon as some ascertained. In fact, in some ways I think the balloon burst and we as fans just didn't see it right away. A blowout home win over NC State and a hammering of a Patrick Towles led Boston College team helped camouflage it for a while. But nail biters against the likes of Duke and Virginia should have been more alarming than they were. And then there was the debacle in Houston. To this minute, I have no words to describe what I watched in that game other than it being one of the poorest displays of organized football this side of Steve Kragthorpe or Ron Cooper's worst teams.
And so in hindsight, I should have gone into Saturday's game with less optimism and more pessimism. But, the fact remained that it was Kentucky - the one trick pony who had yet to actually beat a quality opponent all season and actually trailed Austin Peay in the second quarter at home the previous week. And, with less than two minutes left, if the Cards were to ever find itself in a late potentially game winning drive in a big game the situation could not have been more quintessential.
In the red zone √
Momentum in your favor √
Clock evaporating √
Ball in the hands of your best player √
And.........fumble. Fumble lost. Ball to Kentucky.
Good grief, I am still astounded 24 hours later that I am even typing that. Lamar Jackson, the school's Mr. Everything, actually fumbled the football in that one moment he couldn't, he shouldn't, but unimaginably did. Those of us who have watched him all season and know his game well understand that he has a tendency to carry the ball loosely. But for him to fumble in that situation on a play where he normally wouldn't was possibly the last sign from the football Gods above that Louisville Football had gone to the well too many times this season and this time would have to go home thirsty.
Coming up one yard short against Clemson should have tipped many of us off to that. The roughing the kicker call against Duke late in the game was the second sign. And the fact that the Cards had to hit on an improbable game saving TD pass at Virginia to win was probably the last straw.
But before anyone grabs the notion that I am singling out for the sole reason of "knocking" Lamar Jackson please stop reading for a brief moment, take a deep breath, and reconvene. Lamar Jackson, in my experiences of being an active, fully attentive UofL fan of 30+ years is the best natural football player I have yet to watch. The scary thing is that he still, in my opinion, has room for growth. But I support him through thick and thin as I do the entire football team and staff. There were numerous plays that could have happened or didn't in some regards that could have changed the outcome of Saturday's game in UofL's favor. I literally cringe at the thought of a 2016 Louisville Football team without Lamar Jackson under center.
And with that said, let me revisit a point I made earlier about questions now being asked by many. In truth, most of them started during the Houston blowout.
How could an offensive line appear to be so inept and on the wrong page?
Why can't Louisville's offensive players show better ball security?
How on Earth can a football team appear to be so unprepared and undisciplined?
These, along with others, are all unanswered questions that are keeping the Cardinal faithful up at night. In the coming days, I expect that staff changes at a bare minimum will be examined and considered. And with the extended practice time leading up to the Cards' bowl game, I expect certain squads to pull their #!?# together and improve.
As Louisville Football moves forward it must learn to put its past firmly behind it and resurrect a new, focused future that shows a resemblance to what was put on display back in September when Florida State left Louisville battered and beaten down. As for the loss to Kentucky, it stings and it stings badly. But nothing can change the outcome and based on Bobby Petrino's shortest postgame press conference in the history of college football, I'd bet the farm that he's already thinking about how he'll beat the Cats in Commonwealth next season.
But for now, it's important for the fan base to bond and not break apart. For goodness sakes, the school could likely have its first ever Heisman Trophy winner in a few weeks. Yes, we as fans will now have to sit and listen to the rival fan base throughout the state talk trash for a calendar year. But hey, at the very least the rivalry is no longer appearing to be deader than a door nail. Kentucky's biggest win in almost a decade reminds us all that even though it isn't basketball, the football rivalry is still as contentious as ever and will be for years to come. Frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way.