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Lingering thoughts: Georgia Tech 46, Louisville 27

Primary thought: It was bad.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no nice way to start this one.

To me, Louisville’s Friday night loss to Georgia Tech was the worst of the Scott Satterfeld era. It may not have come by the widest margin or stung as much as the higher-profile losses to Kentucky or Miami (pick either one), but I think it’s the most difficult to find an appeasable explanation for.

On the surface, laying out why Georgia Tech scored 46 points on Friday and Louisville tallied just 27 isn’t all that difficult. These are two teams that were fairly evenly matched on paper, the Cardinals gave the ball away three times at crucial moments, and the Yellow Jackets finished the evening with no giveaways.

But any diehard Louisville fan who followed last season closely and caught all four hours of Friday night’s contest had to have seen at least a glimmer of something a little bit more disconcerting.

I’m going to buck my natural instinct and use multiple fan cliches in the same sentence because I think they both apply: The “bounce” and the “chip on the shoulder” that the 2019 team played (almost) every game with just aren’t there right now.

Dave Scull put it better than I could in the moment.

Is it possible that both of us (and everyone else who’s likeminded) are too deep into this and seeing things that simply aren’t there? Sure. Perhaps it’s just that Miami and Pitt are better than this team, and Georgia Tech is always going to be better than you if you gift them three in the turnover battle. But it certainly doesn’t feel like the situation is that cut and dry.

The first half of Friday’s game felt so much like one of the league tilts from 2019. Louisville clearly appeared to be the better team, it seized control about midway through the half, but then had just enough gaffes to let their overmatched opponent cling to life at the break.

Given the similar vibes, I naturally expected this team assert its will in the second half, maintain control of its advantage, and ultimately put the game away after four or five failed attempts to recover an onside kick. Clearly, the opposite happened. Louisville never found its footing on either side of the ball, and every major moment of the second half went to the team that entered the night as a five-point underdog.

Louisville is now virtually incapable of having the type of season that most of us thought they would have and that all of us hoped they would have. That sucks. But maybe seeing up close the hunger and the desire that Georgia Tech played with on Friday will flip the switch that has seemed to remain in limbo for this squad since the season started exactly a month ago. Maybe we’ll get a refreshing dose of 2019 nostalgia when we watch the Cards play in South Bend in five days. Maybe we’ll stop having to tell ourselves these strings of hopeful affirmations every autumn Monday.

“Maybe not” to all of that seems a hell of a lot more possible than it did a week ago.

—Obligatory turnover stat: Louisville is now 8-0 under Scott Satterfield when winning the turnover battle and 1-8 when losing it. The WKU season-opener is the only game where the Cards have lost the turnover battle but still won the game.

—I think the problem is we need to play some Atlantic Division teams. Louisville has had some bizarre struggles with Coastal Division foes since joining the conference, and never has that been more true than this year ... when there aren’t even divisions.

Who the hell knows what that means for Saturday against “conference opponent” Notre Dame.

—This, of course, comes with the preface that Scott Satterfield and the entire U of L staff have forgotten more about football than I could ever know, but I was blown away by the decision to give Georgia Tech a third and goal from the 19 as opposed to a 4th and goal from the four. I know they had struggles with their kicking game and I know they were liable to go for it from the 4, but giving your opponent an extra down when your defense has been suspect always feels like the wrong move.

—In the spirit of full disclosure, I also didn’t like the decision to go for it on 4th and goal instead of kicking the field goal when the game was tied at seven. Malik Cunningham rolled into the endzone and made me look dumb.

—All of these games sucked.

—If you’re looking for a bit of long-term optimism at this point in the post, here’s the best I can do: The first year and a quarter of the Scott Satterfield era looks awfully similar to the first year and a quarter of the Charlie Strong era.

The evidence:

-The bottom completely fell out from under both of the prior regimes.

-Both coaches had teams that were to finish dead last in their conferences in a rebuilding first year.

-Both wound up overachieving to the point that Louisville played in and won a bowl game.

-Despite key losses, the fans expected the program to take another step forward in year two.

-In 2011, Louisville started 2-4 with embarrassing non-conference losses to FIU and Marshall, and then lost its Big East opener against Cincinnati. That team would go on to finish 5-2 in league play, upsetting a nationally-ranked West Virginia team on the road along the way.

-We obviously know how things have started here in 2020.

Now, there are some key differences between what we’re seeing now and what we saw in 2011. Most notably, this team returned far more of its headline talent from the year before than the squad nine years ago did, which is why that team was once again picked to finish tied for last in the Big East heading into the year. Strong and company tossed Teddy Bridgewater and a lot of young talent into the proverbial fire, and it paid off in a major way both for the second half of the 2011 season and the two years that followed.

With Louisville returning its record-breaking running back, record-breaking wide receiver, its effective starting QB and a number of other key contributors from last year’s eight-win team, it was completely within reason to expect year two of the Satterfield era to at least be on par with year one. That hasn’t happened yet, but if his trajectory can continue to somewhat mirror Strong’s, perhaps the month and a half ahead will be a lot more enjoyable.

—Another jolt of positivity: Javian Hawkins is now third in the nation in total rushing with 468 yards, and ninth in rushing yards per game at 117.0. He is still an absolute stud.

—I’m not certain that Andre Ware was seeing the same pictures the rest of the country was. Every comment he made during a replay seemed to be in direct conflict with what the replay was actually showing.

*ball goes right through Ean Pfeifer’s hands for what should have been a walk-in touchdown*

“And that’s just another case of Malik Cunningham not putting the ball where it needs to be. He’s got to settle down here.”

Ok, man.

—There are multiple players on the defensive side of the ball who simply can’t keep seeing the field if they’re going to continue to be smack in the middle of every huge defensive mishap. You would have thought those particular spots would have been up for grabs after the Miami debacle, but apparently not.

—One bright spot on the defensive side was Jared Goldwire, who got a couple of really nice highlights for his NFL draft tape. The first was his blocked extra point, and the second was the play where he ripped through two blockers to make a big play in the Georgia Tech backfield.

Louisville’s defensive front hasn’t been much to write home about through the season’s first four games, but Goldwire has been the exception.

—It’s pretty clear that Georgia Tech has its guy in Geoff Collins. They’re not going to be great this season, and they’re probably going to be a middling ACC team again in 2021, but this was a complete rebuild for him, and he’s quickly brought in the level of young talent to make this program a legit contender in much shorter order than I would have guessed.

—How did Ryan Harwell not win the punting job during fall camp? What a terrific debut.

—I’m a monster Dez Fitzpatrick fan, but if he wants the number of targets that he seems to, he’s got to do more on a key 3rd and 6 play where the ball is thrown his way.

—Marshon Ford remains a monster and the epitome of what Satterfield and company want this program to be. He’s struggled a bit with pass blocking, but his other contributions in the passing game have certainly more than made up for that.

—I think every shitty high school coach did the thing where he made the running back who was fumbling too much walk around school holding a football all day. I always thought it was dumb, but maybe it’s time we do that with Hassan Hall. I’m open to anything. I love the guy and his explosiveness is a huge weapon, but those fumbles simply cannot happen.

—Georgia Tech ran onto the field to a remix of “What’s Poppin’.” That’s right, an opposing team utilized a song by a Louisville rapper that directly references the Louisville Cardinals, and then beat Louisville by 19.

That should sting. Pun absolutely intended.

—I have no idea how the rest of the season goes, and honestly, I’m already getting a little tired of trying to figure it out.

Beat Notre Dame.