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15 belated thoughts on Louisville’s win over NC State

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NCAA Football: Louisville at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks and weeks of waiting to talk about it and hearing “you can’t talk about it yet,” we can finally talk about it.

We’re not going to talk about it yet.

Before I fully move into Notre Dame week mode, I need to finish digesting Louisville’s gritty as hell 13-10 win over NC State in Raleigh last Friday.

Here are 15 thoughts on how the Cards got to 5-0 for the first time since 2013.

1. If there was one common theme from the final three seasons of the Scott Satterfield era, it was looking back at the game on Saturday night and thinking (or sometimes saying repeatedly out loud) “how in the hell did we lose that game?” There were so many instances — Boston College last year and Virginia two years ago immediately come to mind — where you looked back at games and realized that if we had just made one out of four, five, six or seven key plays, we would have won that game. We never seemed to make that play.

In three out of our five games in the Jeff Brohm era thus far, we’ve made those plays.

Let’s think back to that 2021 home game against Virginia, which was quarterbacked by the same (at least in name) Brennan Armstrong we saw Friday night. Louisville had three different 4th down plays against UVA in the fourth quarter, and if the defense holds on any of them, the game is over. The Cavaliers converted on all three and scored on both drives in question. Even after all of that, U of L still had an opportunity to win the game with a 49-yard field goal at the final horn. James Turner pushed it right.

On Friday night, Louisville’s defense came up with the big stop or turnover every single time it felt like the game was hanging in the balance. Brock Travelstead did come through with the big kick from 53-yards out to produce the game’s deciding points. And then the defense did make the big play to get the ball back from Armstrong and company to let the O run out the clock.

I’m a firm believer in the value of advanced statistics and the benefits of utilizing and understanding them. I also think there’s plenty to be said for the incalculable, intrinsic confidence that is inherent within a program with a winning culture.

If you look at the footage from halftime in the game recap video that U of L put out, you see a locker room full of players who aren’t rattled whatsoever by the fact that they’re down double digits to a good team on the road. There is no wavering of faith. There is no cowering to the moment. The players and coaching staff fully believed that they were going to go out there and do in the second half exactly what they did in the Georgia Tech game. And then they did it.

Louisville won’t win every close game of the Jeff Brohm era, but seeing a team in year one that, to use Charlie Strong’s phrase, “just understands how to win” bodes awfully well for not just the second half of this season, but the future of the program under Brohm.

2. I love the passion that Stephen Herron plays with. Seeing the video of him making sure that a choked up Brock Travelstead got his moment of recognition in front of the entire team also speaks to just how valuable a leader he’s been on a Cardinal defense that lost its most vocal contributors from last season.

3. The Jack Plummer interception may have been the worst decision I’ve ever seen a Louisville quarterback make.

Two people have sent me videos where their significant other was filming them — presumably trying to get an over the top celebration reaction for when we finally took the lead — and captured their horrified reactions to the play in question. Neither can be shared, but they did make me wish that all of our reactions to the play were on film somewhere.

Personally, the second the ball was in the air I let out a slow motion “NNNOOOOOOOOO” that felt like it lasted a cartoonish amount of time. When the ball landed safely in the NC State safety’s waiting arms I think I stared blankly for a solid 20 seconds before exclaiming “I can’t believe he just fucking did that.” I may have repeated the line a time or five after that.

To Plummer’s credit, he didn’t allow the weight of the mistake to bury him, and did just enough on U of L’s final offensive drive to give Brock a shot to win the game. There’s something to be said for that.

Plummer was not horrible on Friday night, his stats bear that out, but his mistakes were glaring. There was the miss of a wide open Jawhar Jordan on the game’s first drive that would have been a touchdown, yet another intentional grounding penalty when taking a sack would have been fine, and a second interception thrown just before the end of the first half that allowed NC State to make it a two score lead going into the locker room.

According to Pro Football Focus, Plummer has a QBR of 146.3 when throwing from a clean pocket this season, and a rating of just 34.1 when pressured. For Louisville to have any hope of beating Notre Dame on Saturday, its signal caller is going to have to do a much better job of recognizing blitzes and getting the ball out quickly and accurately to his short reads.

4. Louisville didn’t score in a first quarter for the first time this season, but the Cards are still outscoring their opponents 34-0 in the opening frame for the year. According to Kelly Dickey, it’s the first time since 1973 that the Cards haven’t allowed a first quarter point in at least six straight games.

5. Some other notable numbers from Kelly:

6. I thought this would be the most stressful game of the year, I was right.

I thought NC State would effectively limit Jamari Thrash’s production, I was right.

I thought we would be able to consistently run the ball against them, I was wrong.

I thought Brennan Armstong would give a resurgent performance against us, I was insanely wrong.

7. Cam’Ron Kelly only makes big plays. This has been established now.

The North Carolina transfer earned his second ACC Defensive Back of the Week award after picking off an Armstrong pass in the endzone and recovering an Armstrong fumble, two second half momentum-swinging plays that Louisville absolutely had to have.

The performance was especially meaningful for Kelly, considering what happened to him the last time he took the field insider Carter-Finley. Suiting up for the rival Tar Heels, Kelly was beaten for two touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter that propelled NC State to a wild 34-30 victory in the regular season finale for both teams.

“To be honest, I owed them boys one,” Kelly said after the game on Friday. “That stuck with me for a long time. That was a blast from the past. I’m here now.”

When the time came for him to make a huge play two years later, Kelly was more than ready.

“His eyes brought me right to where he was going.” Kelly said of his 3rd quarter interception in the endzone. “All the quarterbacks know that if there’s a blitz coming, you’re trying to replace the blitz with a throw, so he tried to throw it to the boundary, and I was right there. And I was like, ‘Gotcha.’”

The man who threw those passes for NC State two years ago? Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary. Wouldn’t hate another dose of revenge on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

8. Think about your job or your school or your parenting or really any area in life where you have a degree of responsibility. Now imagine you were as wrong in that field as Andre Ware is every time he calls a nationally-televised football game.

Why are we forced to put up with this? Why can’t something be done? How does a former Heisman Trophy winner who played in the NFL seem to not understand some of the most basic rules of football?

9. I could watch Ramon Puryer bullying the NC State left guard to force the game-clinching interception a million times.

Another local walk-on done good. Eastern High School stand up.

10. We probably aren’t talking enough about Jaylin Alderman, who has gone from “the guy who returned the pick against UCF” to one of the biggest reasons why all the lost production at linebacker from last season has not buried the 2023 Cardinal defense.

Alderman, who currently ranks fourth on the team in tackles, was all over the field on Friday.

Most notably, he did this:

I still don’t understand how his helmet stayed on ... or why his quarterback hates him so much.

11. I really thought that the day of “Pacing Mike” were over, but I’m pretty sure I walked 10,000 steps in the CC Headquarters living room during the second half of this game.

FitBit doesn’t back this up, but whatever, I’m convinced that piece of shit is always short-changing me.

12. It was a touchdown.

I know it was a touchdown. You know it was a touchdown. NC State fans know it was a touchdown.

13. It probably wasn’t running into the kicker.

It doesn’t matter, because it was a touchdown.

14. With Louisville playing its other four road (or “road”) games this season in NFL stadiums, I think it’s pretty safe to say that NC State will be the toughest environment U of L plays in this season.

They didn’t always handle it well, but ultimately they walked out of Carter-Finley with a victory. I love the timing of the road test too. It helped that the CCBM was in the house.

Now, just eight days later, the Cards get to feel what it’s like to play inside a stadium with even more life, and with that life supporting you. Hopefully the team going through what it went through in Raleigh will help alleviate the fears of anyone being a bit jittery or a bit too hyped up on Saturday night.

15. We end this the only way we could possibly end it: Happy Rocco.

This is “3-0 in the ACC for the first time ever” personified.

Now, bring on the Irish.