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USC defeats Louisville in Holiday Bowl, 42-28

Not the ending we’d hoped for.

DIRECTV Holiday Bowl - Louisville v USC Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Let’s start by saying that this was an incredibly fun first season with Jeff Brohm.

What we experienced during the regular season, with a few exceptions, was tremendously fun. Cracking the Top-10, rushing the field against Notre Dame, and making the ACC Championship Game were among the many highlights that fans will remember for years to come. Winning double-digit games and playing for a conference title is always something to be celebrated, and in time I hope we do properly. Hell, we have nine months to do so.

But tonight it’s a lot harder to talk about those highlights and what a success Brohm’s first season at UofL was.

What we saw tonight capped off an eerily similar three-game skid to finish the season like the one we saw in 2016. Both the 2016 and 2023 teams had one loss on their records before losing three in a row. Both teams had frustrating, fluky, embarrassing, whatever you want to call it, losses to inferior Kentucky teams at home. And both teams got absolutely pantsed by traditional powers in their bowl games.

Will Jeff Borhm’s program face the same fate Bobby 2.0’s did? It’s highly unlikely, of course. But it’s still such an odd way to end a highly successful season. This was Louisville’s chance to leave a good taste in everyone’s mouth after forgettable back-to-back losses, but this is what we’re left with until next fall.

Lincoln Riley and Miller Moss deserve a ton of credit. Riley and Co. weathered the tremendous amount of opt-outs and transfers and he handed his offense over to Moss with 100% belief in him. Moss responded by breaking the Holiday Bowl and USC program records for passing touchdowns in a bowl game. It was an electric performance that Louisville had absolutely zero answer to. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more of that name in the next few years.

But Louisville’s defense. Woof. The unit was virtually unrecognizable from the form we saw them in against Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia Tech midseason. Sure having guys like Brownlee and others gone had a huge effect, but I don’t think anyone saw the drop off being this drastic. The issues in the secondary, especially at safety, have to be addressed and fixed before next season. Maybe we should have expected more out of a Lincoln Riley offense still studded with blue-chip talent, but I don’t think most people saw anyone doing this to what was such a strong defense all year. Except, maybe, Keith Wynne.

As for Louisville’s offense, if you wanted a perfect encapsulation of his entire career as QB1 of UofL, it was his second to last play on 4th and 6 when the Cards needed a touchdown most. The play call was perfect and it was executed perfectly with Jadon Thompson streaking freely across the field, only for Plummer to get the ball to him late and behind him, forcing Thompson to try and shift his momentum backwards to catch the ball. Thompson wasn’t able to regain his balance and fell just short of the marker. That’s the entire Jack Plummer experience right there.

On one hand you can see it as a positive in that the coaches have the plays and usually the players to get what we need, but the missing piece is a QB who can finish the job. On the other hand you have a now countless list of missed opportunities that will have fans asking “what ifs?” for a long time.

Oh, and Isaac Guerendo. I love you so much. Please come back.

What an absolute stud. 23 carries for 161 yards, 7 ypc, and 3 touchdowns. He also led the team in receiving, which is not exactly what you want from your offense. Guerendo was such a great surprise from the first game of the season, and he really took off when Jordan went down midseason and we needed him most. Even if he doesn’t come back, he will be one of my favorite players I can remember in recent memory. Dude rules.

Last thing I’ll say about the offense, since we have nine months to do so, is the play calling. It seemed like in the first half we went away from the running game a few times and it bit us in the ass. We eventually went back to it, which USC still had no answer for, but Louisville was already trailing. I think at this point in the season, we have enough evidence to realize that this offense just isn’t built to play from behind, especially in a shootout. Playing ahead with this run game was always the goal, so I’m not sure why we went away from it.

Okay I lied. One more thing. The staff also had some head scratchers in the first half when we punted from our own 36 and the play-action call to end the first half. A lot of the end-of-half calls weren’t great this year, for that matter. But for the most part the calls were there all game, we just didn’t have the QB or receiving corps to get it done. It happens.

The funny thing is even as I wrap up this review of a particularly maddening performance in a disappointing losing streak, I am finding myself thinking of what an awesome season it was and what a joy it when this fanbase needed a lift most (shoutout, KP). Huge thank you to all the seniors that made this season so special.

While this wasn’t the ending any of us wanted, the future of Louisville football continues to be very bright. We have a lot of time to talk about it, but if you want to start dreaming again go ahead and look at next year’s schedule and the recruiting/transfer classes we’re bringing in. Wouldn’t be surprised if we have more fun times on the horizon very soon.

That’s it. So long, 2023 Louisville Football. See you Labor Day Weekend.