This isn’t going to be a lengthy write-up because I think Saturday’s loss to Pitt was the most straightforward result of the season so far for Louisville.
Miami outplayed the Cardinals the week before, but the difference in U of L having a shot to win that game and being multiple scores down for almost the entire second half was three huge defensive busts that resulted in easy and long Hurricane touchdowns. There were no such breakdowns on Saturday and Louisville had opportunities to return home with a victory, but Pitt beat the Cardinals because Pitt was a better team and played a better game.
The Panther defense was as good as advertised and gave U of L just a handful of opportunities to make big plays. Unfortunately for the Cards, they couldn’t capitalize on those plays. The Pitt offense wasn’t spectacular, but it did enough early on in the game to let its stronger counterpart play with a lead for almost the entire afternoon.
To sum up: Louisville lost by three points in a road game where it was a three-point underdog. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t frustrating or that there aren’t areas that need to be improved, but it does mean that we don’t need to spend 5,000 words here trying to figure out just how the hell this could have happened and whether or not it means that something about the current state of Cardinal football is irreparably damaged.
—I knew Paris Ford was a stud and that the Pitt defensive front was stellar, but I’ll fully admit to having some doubt about their dominance just based on the fact that they racked up their eye-popping first two week numbers against the not-so-dynamic duo of Austin Peay and Syracuse. Turns out, they might be even better than advertised.
Those dude up front just dominated our guys up front for four quarters. Any one of them would be a difference maker if you put them on our defensive line tomorrow.
—The most frustrating aspect of this game was the ever-present sense that a big pass play for the good guys was about to happen. It never did.
Louisville made the logical decision to go deep to TuTu Atwell every time Pitt brought a heavy pass rush. Atwell, as he tends to do, destroyed the Panther single coverage and had multiple steps on his man at least five times in this game. Unfortunately, he and Malik Cunningham — who, to his credit, stayed in the topic and delivered these deep throws knowing full well that he was about to be popped — just could never hook up. A couple of balls were underthrown, one was overthrown, and the one pass that was on the money, Atwell couldn’t come down with.
You need a handful of big plays to counteract a defense that’s taking away your ability to ground and pound, and Louisville was just never able to hit on the opportunities the Panther defense opened the door for.
—The turnover stat — Louisville is now 8-0 under Scott Satterfield when winning the turnover battle and 1-7 when losing it — is pretty staggering, but even stranger to me is the fact that Louisville has played 16 straight games without finishing with the same number of turnovers as their opponent one time. Malik Cunningham’s desperation toss that was intercepted on U of L’s final offensive play allowed Pitt to win the turnover battle on Saturday by a final count of 3-2.
—Speaking of Malik, I’m 100 percent for respecting people’s wishes when it comes to what name they want to be called, but ...
Louisville is 8-3 when Malik Cunningham starts while asking to be called Micale and 0-6 when he asks to be called Malik.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) September 27, 2020
He played as Micale from the 2019 Boston College game through the 2020 Western Kentucky game.
Cunningham said that no one on the team or coaching staff stopped calling him “Malik” when he changed the name the first time, which played a big part in his decision to go back.
Soooo if nothing really changed, would it be cool if the rest of us went back to Micale? I’m like 65 percent joking, but that number will go down significantly if we don’t beat Georgia Tech.
—I’ve never watched a game with worse camera work. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: I don’t think I’ve ever watched any sort of production with a single element more poorly executed than the camera work was in this game.
If you get fooled a couple of times in a game by play action, that’s totally understandable. If you follow the wrong ball carrier on a well-executed read option, we get it. This was none of that. This was a simple drop-back pass play from Pitt where the moment the ball was thrown, the camera would zoom in on the shoes of the Louisville players on the other side of the field. This was a basic off-tackle run play where the camera would refuse to follow the running back once he broke past the line of scrimmage.
It was so bad it was funny early on, and then sooooo bad that it was legitimately annoying as the game continued.
—I feel like 90 percent of football fan bases believe that opposing kickers kick better against their team than everyone else’s, but we have a legitimate gripe here. Through three weeks, kickers against Louisville have yet to miss an extra point and are 6-for-6 on field goals.
It was one thing when the Miami kicker was casually banging 57-yarders a couple of weeks ago, because he was supposed to be really good, but Saturday was different. Pitt’s kicker had shanked all three of his attempts going into the Louisville game, and his job security had been a big media focus in the week leading up to the contest. Naturally, he perfectly split the uprights on all three of his field goal attempts, including a pair from over 42 yards out.
You need a little bit of luck to steal a game like Saturday’s, and U of L just didn’t get it.
—Related: James Turner has been remarkably solid. The “Right-Footed Art Carmody” is his new nickname until further notice.
—My friends Daniel and Megan Mudd welcomed a new baby girl named Avery into the world last week, and when C.J. Avery finally held onto an interception that looked like the most important play of the game at the time, I thought this might be some sort of ethereal sports moment that would serve as a great story for the kid for years to come. Instead, it’s just an ok story.
Regardless, welcome to the world, Avery. Don’t let your dad tell you that he outran Michael Bush in the 2002 state title game. Watch the video. Bush just ran out of field before the endzone.
—I didn’t think watching a game with zero crowd would be that much different than watching the Cardinal Stadium games with limited fans, but I was wrong. The total lack of any sort of noise or response when the home team scored a touchdown was really jarring.
Although I guess not everyone noticed.
Gotta admire the effort from No. 12 here in an empty stadium pic.twitter.com/BbgLvDfFOm— Presley Meyer (@meyer_presley) September 26, 2020
—If we had found a way to win this game, we would all be giving that indescribably beautiful fake punt call its proper due. Instead, it’s likely to be largely forgotten in a couple of weeks. Defeats always rob you of more than just a win.
—Despite his small stature and his dynamic playmaking ability, Javian Hawkins has never been a boom-or-bust running back for us, but that’s what Pitt turned him into on Saturday. Hawkins had a 75-yard scamper in the first half, and then just 12 yards total on his other 12 carries in the game.
Again, I don’t think we’re going to see amore stout defensive front this season.
—Louisville is now 0-2 in games where Ean Pfeifer makes a non-touchdown reception. This needs to be rectified.
—I’m going to leave with the most surface, majority take possible, but it’s also one that I genuinely believe: It sucks being 1-2 right now and 0-2 in the ACC, but I don’t think there’s more than one or two losses left on the schedule. The dream of exceeding expectations being being almost totally out the window before the calendar flips to October is clearly a bummer, but having the type of season (a good season!) most were expecting a month ago is still firmly within reach.
It’s perfectly fine to be disappointed — I’m disappointed and I’d say pretty much the entire fan base, even the segment that predicted a 1-2 start, is currently harboring some level of disappointment — but let’s stay within reason here. If these next two games don’t go according to plan, then we can have a serious talk about busting out emotions that go beyond mild disappointment.