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Five lingering post-Clemson thoughts

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And then we move on forever as best we can.

Clemson v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I realize this is horribly belated, but for a variety of reasons, I haven’t had an opportunity to share my thoughts on Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Clemson just yet. While others here have already said most of what I would have covered in a postgame wrap, there are a couple of things I do want to touch on briefly.

Five, to be precise.

1.

I think the biggest reason (outside the obvious ones) that this loss has lingered longer than most is that we’re simply not used to being dealt a beat down in this type of game.

Louisville has lost four games or more in every season but two since the Steve Kragthorpe era came to a merciful end, so it’s not like Cardinal fans have become “re-spoiled” since 2009. What we have gotten used to is not getting our asses kicked ... at least not in situations where there wasn’t a way to easily explain it.

Under Charlie Strong, U of L was defeated 15 times, but only twice by double digits and never by 20 points or more. Louisville’s lowest moments in the second Petrino era have typically come with an explanation. It was a bowl game and non-major bowl game results are easy to disregard. Lamar was a freshman. The team was too focused on being slighted by the College Football Playoff committee. And so forth and so on.

Louisville got its ass kicked Saturday night, and there’s no easy way to explain it.

The most common justification we’ve all heard in the days since the loss is that Clemson is simply on a different level than Louisville. The Tigers are one of the two-best programs in college football right now, they’ve recruited better than U of L for an eternity, and the Cardinals simply aren’t ready to sit at the big kid’s table just yet.

There’s nothing wrong or inaccurate about that line of thinking, but it does just sort of dismiss that Louisville has looked like it’s belonged on the field with Clemson and Florida State in every year since 2014, but didn’t look like it had any belief that it could take down the Tigers on Saturday. Why? What could have possibly changed here?

It’s not difficult to make the case that this is the most talented of the four teams that comprise Bobby Petrino’s second era at Louisville. So why is this the one that just got its ass handed to it by Clemson in a manner not reminiscent of what we’ve seen over the previous three seasons?

I think this is the question we’re all sort of scared to try and answer right now. And if it was just this one game standing on its own, that would be one thing, but it’s not. It’s the combination of the fact that U of L trailed in the fourth quarter against good (maybe?) but not great teams in its first two games, and the way it ended last season.

It’s impossible not to be worried about that at the moment.

2.

I think the Clemson loss and the way it happened have given rise to both fear and malaise concerning both this team’s immediate future and the program’s immediate future.

For starters, there is no other home game on the schedule this season for the fans to get really excited about. And unless Louisville is 6-1 heading to Florida State on Oct. 21, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see anything resembling the excitement we saw last week again this season. Neither of those things are cool.

This despondency can be turned around, make no mistake about it, just not right now. For a group of people who waited all summer long for this time of the year, that’s a difficult feeling to come to terms with.

The other thing that I think has added to the pain of this week is the concern that if this team isn’t “great,” Louisville may not have a great team any time soon.

You’ve got a transcendent talent at quarterback and a head coach who has been referred to as an “offensive genius” for what feels like his entire career. If that combination can’t result in a double-digit win season where you’re considered among the nation’s elite, then why should we expect greatness moving forward?

Being a program that consistently wins somewhere around nine games a year is fine so long as you sprinkle in an 11 or 12-win season and a conference title every now and then. I think we’re all getting a little bit antsy for that sprinkling.

3.

If nothing else great happens this season, at least we’ll have the day leading up to the game on Sept. 16. The buzz was terrific, all the lots were filled two hours before kickoff, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of building excitement leading up to a game inside Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Nothing good happened after we walked into PJCS, but at least we got to experience the preceding hours.

4.

There’s been so much talk about what went wrong for Louisville, and understandably so. But perhaps the biggest contributing factor this game being so different from the past three was that Kelly Bryant was way better in his first start against the Cardinals than DeShaun Watson was in any of his three (yes I know he got hurt in 2014, but he was still dreadful on Clemson’s first three series).

There were times when Bryant simply needed not to screw up, like when Ray Ray McCloud got 30 yards of separation by shaking a U of L CB who was playing wide receiver four weeks ago. But more times than that, Bryant was simply sensational. The throw that he dropped right over Zeke Cannon’s head to Hunter Renfrow on their first drive made me very, very nervous. He only got better as the game went on.

This was supposed to be a replay of last year’s third week. A first-year quarterback making his first true road start against a team desperate for national validation isn’t always the best recipe for success. It was for Clemson, who had the more poised and composed signal caller on the field Saturday night. Tip your cap to him and say well done.

5.

Like I implied earlier, there’s no way to completely shake off the sting from this one at the moment, and there won’t be for another few weeks. Thankfully, though, it is possible. Unless things go completely off the rails, this team is still probably going to be favored in eight of its last nine games. If you win 10 or 11 regular season games, it sets the stage for a season that can be forever remembered as “special.”

There’s a significant amount of work that needs to be done in order for that to occur, but the fact that it’s at least possible is the most comforting (maybe the only comforting) thing about this season right now.