To cap off a whirlwind two weeks for U of L, #17 Louisville came up short 39-25 to #24 NC State. It was the first time Louisville lost to a divisional opponent not named Clemson or Florida State, and the first time Bobby Petrino lost a regular-season game in North Carolina.
I’ll try my best here, but here’s the pros and cons from last night.
U of L’s offense needed some big-time production from their receivers with Jaylen Smith out. Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick both came through with career days last night. The second year players combined for 15 of Jackson’s 26 completions (ten for Fitzpatrick), and 267 of his 354 yards (133 for Dawkins, 134 for Fitzpatrick).
Lamar Jackson did become the sixth player in FBS history with 7,000+ passing yards and 3,000+ rushing in his career. Jackson also holds the ACC record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, and will certainly add more records this year. He had a solid touchdown throw down the sideline to Seth Dawkins, and added two more scores on the ground.
Louisville did get an early turnover in the first quarter on a fumble recovery, but not much else past that. They did, however, finish even on the turnover margin.
Blanton Creque hit a career long 48-yard field goal, as well. The Shelbyville native continues to be efficient with 14 straight makes, and adding distance like that can help Louisville in the long haul.
* cracks knuckles before typing *
After allowing 230 total yards combined in the last two games, the defense regressed back to their norm all season. NC State tallied 520 total yards, including 367 from quarterback Ryan Finley. The redshirt junior was as efficient as advertised on Thursday, and picked apart a defense that was terrible in coverage all night. Give some credit to NC State’s receivers though; guys like Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis made spectacular catches when necessary, and they are a good football team.
The defensive line was going to be key in forcing Ryan Finley into rare mistakes. That did not happen, as Louisville did not record a sack for the second straight game. Not even the return of Drew Bailey and Jaire Alexander made a difference for them. Plain and simple, the defense is bad. And I’m not sure what they can do to remedy their issues in disrupting the passing game, at this point.
On offense, the efficiency that Jackson started with petered out in the second half. With Louisville finding themselves behind two scores, Jackson was forced to air it out and missed a ton, especially deep down field. The lone interception he threw was a missed read, and it was (again) a pick-six that iced the game. Two brutal drops killed a Louisville drive that needed a touchdown to close the first half.
Not that I’m highlighting these as “bad play,” necessarily, but Louisville had two big injuries in the second half. Stacy Thomas went out of the game, and it was a huge blow for a Louisville defense that sorely needs his veteran leadership and consistent play. It’s unsure how long he’ll be out, but his presence was really missed in the second half.
Second, Malik Williams suffered a brutal injury in the closing minutes, severely dislocating his arm. For a position group that’s already suffering with injuries, it was certainly an ill-timed one. Williams was emerging as a playmaker that Louisville needed to complement Jackson, and now the table is reset. For those keeping score at home, the three-deep at running back is now Reggie Bonnafon, Trey Smith and Harry Trotter.
Final Grade: D+
I’m highly tempted to give Louisville an F here, but unlike Clemson, the Cardinals actually had a shot to win the game. But NC State got pressure on Lamar Jackson plenty, and torched the Louisville defense with ease.
First, maybe we gave Peter Sirmon too much of a chance. His one year at Mississippi State was not good by nearly any metric. But with Louisville’s talent, maybe it would make them good enough to win shootouts.
The problem with that is the defense has not looked good at all against major competition. “Bend but don’t break” is fine, but Louisville doesn’t have the discipline to pull it off. In the last five years, they have not finished better than 100th in penalties per game. Add that to the blown coverages, and it’s no secret why Louisville has been in dogfights mostly.
The lack of blitz packages makes it even more appalling, in review. When the defense sends seven in coverage and still gets torn apart, I’m not sure what else they can do at this point. Maybe you call more blitzes to try and get offenses flustered? Maybe you give younger guys more opportunities? Either way, Peter Sirmon has a seat hot enough to make the sun feel like wintry Alaska.
As for the offense, play-calling wasn’t optimal. Maybe Lamar Jackson shouldn’t drop back 50 times in a game, but the thin depth at running back doesn’t help either. Run blocking hasn’t necessarily been a strength, but sometimes they don’t call designed runs enough to properly assess them. The offensive line was disrupted a ton in pass protection, so some more designed runs could have helped. The trick plays didn’t pan out either, and probably weren’t necessary.
The bottom line is this; this was a win that Louisville sorely needed after a long two weeks. Instead, they came up way short.
And now Bobby Petrino & company are feeling the heat. It’s not time to reevaluate his job status, but it is time to raise questions, especially after the hit U of L took in PR to hire him back. How will he solve the running back position, with Malik Williams now out? Does Traveon Samuel get touches at RB? How can the defense try to salvage their season, if possible?
If some of these issues aren’t fixed, then it’s possible Louisville falls to 8-4 or even 7-5. And with a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, that would just make the discussion even louder.
See you all next week.