Of course it was over-reactionary and irrational, but I spent a significant chunk of the halftime period Friday night wondering if this was just how things were going to be from now on: Disappointment right from the get-go by Cardinal football slowly leading into a Louisville men’s basketball season where the old annual preseason dreams of a national championship felt multiple generations removed.
It was a low place.
The hour and-a-half or so that followed was just what the doctor ordered. For me, for you, for everyone who has been looking for a jolt after the last few years of the malaise that has gone hand-in-hand with Louisville’s two flagship sports programs.
According to Kelly Dickey, U of L entered Friday night’s Aflac Kickoff Game with an all-time record of 3-135 in games where they trailed by more than 14 points at halftime. They are 4-135 after pulling off the feat for the first time since freshman Lamar Jackson broke hearts in Lexington by turning a 24-7 halftime deficit into a 38-24 win back in 2015.
Georgia Tech is not a world-beater. Louisville did not play flawless football to beat them. For now, none of that matters.
Since Jackson’s graduation, U of L’s only week one victory before Friday came against Western Kentucky back in the COVID-shortened season of 2020. The Cards had not defeated a power conference opponent in a season-opener since limping to a win over Purdue in Indianapolis back in 2017.
It’s been a while since the Labor Day vibes in the Derby City have been this high. For all of us who have been disappointed more times than we can count in recent years, it’s an earned moment. Let’s soak it up.
—A number of people have made the observation over the last couple of days that halftime adjustments weren’t really Scott Satterfield’s thing. To be fair, they weren’t really Bobby Petrino’s either. A solid chunk of Petrino’s most painful losses (‘04 Miami, ‘06 Rutgers, ‘14 Florida State) came in games where Louisville dominated early but then failed to find their footing once their opponent made its run.
Louisville’s second quarter was just as befuddling on my second viewing as it was watching it live, but hearing how Jeff Brohm was able to right the ship in the locker room was comforting. Hearing him elaborate, in detail, on exactly how he was able to do it was refreshing.
“We got in a rut there playing too much man coverage in the second quarter,” Brohm said. “We had some guys running all over the place and not knowing where to be. I thought we played the same front too much. We were on our heels. The linebackers weren’t attacking downhill. Fortunately, we’ve worked a lot of things throughout fall camp, the summer and the spring, and we made adjustments, and we used different calls, changed the front, stemmed the front, played more zone, and we did a much better job. I just think you come into the game thinking you can do something, and if it doesn’t work, you’ve got to be able to adjust. I applaud our defensive coaches for making those adjustments.”
Of course it wasn’t just about the Xs and Os at the break.
In Brohm’s own words, he “didn’t life a whole lot of spirits at halftime” and told his players that anyone who didn’t play hard in the second half wouldn’t be playing at all for the rest of the season.
It’s safe to say the message resonated.
Dez Tell: "At halftime, Jeff Brohm got us hyped. . . . I ain't going to lie. It was crazy. Felt like a dream. I felt like we were going to win regardless."— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) September 2, 2023
Plummer on Brohm's halftime talk: "He had some choice words for us at halftime. It got us going and lit a fire under us. Coach is here to win games, so when we play like that in the first half, he's got to do something. Luckily he did, and we were able to respond."— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) September 2, 2023
Again, it wasn’t a work of art, but there’s zero question that for the final two quarters Louisville out-worked and out-executed the team that had bested them by 15 in the opening half. That’s a pretty solid first impression from the new head coach and his group of players.
—Ok let’s talk about Jack Plummer.
When it comes to the predictions of this team winning nine or ten games this season, my primary concern has always been what if the quarterback just isn’t good enough. For two quarters on Friday night, the quarterback just wasn’t good enough.
Plummer’s biggest asset going into this season was supposed to be his familiarity with Brohm’s explosive passing offense. That familiarity was supposed to pave the way to some monster numbers fueled solely by knowing where the ball is supposed to go and knowing when it’s supposed to get there. A trio of simple, accurate, well-timed 7-yard throws can quickly turn into 3-for-3 for 75 yards and a touchdown on paper in this offense.
The familiarity was not on full (or even partial) display early on. The most concerning thing about Plummer’s play in the first half wasn’t necessarily the missed throws, it was him not seeing the easy throws. There were multiple instances of an open player on an underneath route or a guy in the flats with no one around him where Plummer just simply did not see the field. And then there were a handful of other instances where Plummer did make the correct read, but he made it a second too late.
The second half was better in large part because Plummer stopped making things so difficult on himself. Quick reads, quick throws, and letting his uber-talented group of receivers make plays after the catch opened the field for some of his more impressive throws later in the half.
On Monday, Brohm chalked up Plummer’s early play to nerves. He characterized his quarterback as a guy who wants to win so badly that he gets too amped up on game day to let the game come to him early on. I know it’s his sixth year of college football, and at this point you sort of assume the guy is who he is, but that’s something we’re going to need to see improve if we’re going to flirt with nine or ten wins or a trip to the ACC title game, or whatever your goal for this season is.
Plummer’s desire to win is apparent. He fought for extra yardage at moments where the game was on the line. He made good on his halftime promise to his teammates that he would pick it up in the second half. Ultimately, he made the plays necessary to move to 1-0 as Louisville’s starting quarterback.
—The good news for Plummer (and all of us) is that the cast of characters he has surrounding him looked even more dynamic than most of us were expecting on Friday night.
Thrash, Jordan, Coleman, Bell, Calloway, Turner, Guerendo and Huggins-Bruce all showcased abilities that will inevitably bring “feed the studs” back into the local lexicon this fall.
This is an offense loaded with playmakers, and if we can to a point where the ball is consistently getting to them in spots that allow them to showcase their explosiveness, it should be a sight to behold.
—The other real positive from the offense on Friday night was that the offensive line was about as solid as we’ve seen when it comes to a week one performance.
Louisville's offensive line held Georgia Tech without a tackle for loss, only the third such game since 1980 when TFLs became a recorded stat.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) September 3, 2023
Nov. 28, 2003 -- 43-40 win at Cincinnati
Oct. 8, 2022 -- 34-17 win at Virginia
Louisville’s starting five played every snap against Georgia Tech, which is a little bit concerning down the road considering at least a few guys in the trenches always get dinged up, but man, that unit looked awfully solid.
—It’s always refreshing (and, honestly, a little bit surprising) when the “offseason star” that we’ve never actually see play in a game winds up living up to the hype.
Jamari Thrash exceeded the hype.
The next-level ability that we saw in his highlight film at Georgia State had zero trouble translating to the ACC. The guy was the most explosive offensive player on the field all night, and his performance has me giddy thinking about what he’s capable of doing over the weeks ahead.
—Thrash is getting the bulk of the postgame attention at wide receiver, and deservedly so, but Kevin Coleman looked awfully crush-worthy as well.
Coleman had a really solid Louisville debut: 3 catches, 66 yards and a touchdown. He was SWAC Freshman of the Year at Jackson State last season. pic.twitter.com/beCr69mrTe— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) September 2, 2023
His touchdown fully showcased the type of “just get the ball to a dude and let him beat a guy 1-on-1” talent that we’ve been lacking on the outside for the last couple of years.
—I re-watched the game on Sunday and I was just as blown away by the difference in the second quarter compared to the rest of the game as I was when watching it live.
For those 15 minutes, Georgia Tech OWNED the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Louisville looked like it simply forgot any of the fundamentals of tackling as well as the need to match the intensity of their opponent.
Every other quarter? The exact opposite. The Cards were the ones doing the manhandling up front, the defense was wrapping up and finishing plays, and the white jerseys were the first ones bouncing off the turf and celebrating.
I have no idea what happened in those second 15 minutes.
—No flag being thrown on this play was indefensible.
Still don't know why there was no flag on this play. pic.twitter.com/Clst0Xc0hm— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) September 3, 2023
My first official freakout of the 2023 season came a minute later when it looked for a moment like the crew wasn’t going to throw a flag on the obvious PI in the endzone. There was a squeal. There was a remote throw. There was almost a “I need to go for a drive.”
—Louisville’s successful track record when it comes to football players named “Brock” appears to be rolling on with Travelstead drilling all four of his field goal attempts, punting four times for an average of 46.3 yards, and successfully handling kickoff duties as well.
James Turner, for anyone interested, missed a field goal and an extra point in his debut as Michigan’s kicker on Saturday.
—The Scott Satterfield lookalike in the visor during the second half made me do a triple-take.
—Georgia Tech putting the ball in the hands of an “M. Rutherford” on the game’s first play felt personal. That’s when the Rutherford family got serious. John ripped his blankey up in disgust, Virginia said her first cuss words, and Mary instinctively started ripping push-ups.
(John was asleep, Virginia was getting ready for bed and Mary was on her phone, but I could feel their intensity)
—Georgia Tech had no answer for Ashton Gillotte at any point on Friday, so they resorted to holding him on pretty much every play and hoping a whistle wouldn’t be blown. Considering the Yellow Jackets were only whistled for two penalties the entire night, probably not the worst strategy.
—Dez Tell made the play of the game, and I don’t really want to think about how the game might have turned out if he hadn’t.
Really nice swim move by Dez Tell to get by the center, fights through running into the LT, and still gets to Haynes King for the sack/fumble. pic.twitter.com/0Qu5xqkbTB— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) September 3, 2023
The second most important play of the game — and I think it’s been forgotten a little bit in the aftermath of the win — I thought was the 4th down conversion when the score was still 28-13.
If Georgia Tech holds there, you can see a scenario where the Cards panic and things really get away from them. Instead, Plummer made a nice, quick, easy throw that I think allowed him to settle in and set the stage for the rest of his half.
—There’s nothing like spending months, weeks and days counting down the time until you finally get to watch your favorite football team take the field again, watching them play for a solid five minutes, and then sitting through two reviews and one uninterrupted play over the next 15 minutes.
You could feel kids all across the city being pulled back in the direction of their video games.
—This was beyond refreshing.
Seeing Louisville as the country's top trending topic for something positive pic.twitter.com/RYiuqWvNI1— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) September 2, 2023
—Trevor Kelsey, the producer of my radio show, watches approximately 15 movies a day and is shocked and appalled when I haven’t seen a film that he enjoys. As such, he has a running list of, I think, 73 moves that I “have” to watch and forces me to watch one whenever I lose a bet. Because the Blue Jays took two of three from the Reds last month, I was tasked with watching “Suicide Kings.” No timeline was discussed, but somehow last week the conversation turned into me needing to watch the movie before the season started so I wouldn’t curse it.
At halftime of Friday night’s game I pulled up a 1:32 scene from Suicide Kings and watched it so that I could honestly say I “watched Suicide Kings” (at least as much as Trevor “ate a salad,” but that’s a different story). I’m not sure if it was that or me tossing on the old Louisville Football sweatshirt at the break that did the trick, but you’re welcome
A lot has changed on the site since I started it at 21-years-old, but the absurd superstitiousness isn’t going anywhere.
—The Ben Perry ejection is a tough deal.
I guess by the letter of the law it’s targeting, but that was an insanely late slide from King. What’s a defender supposed to do there? Anticipate that the quarterback is going to slide and just stop playing?
Regardless, Perry — who remained on the sidelines and thoroughly engaged for the rest of the game — will be back and ready to go Thursday night.
—I thought Isaac Guerendo came in and gave the same sort of jolt to the offense that we’ve seen Jawhar Jordan give as a reserve in recent years. He ran incredibly hard and turned what should have been a couple of stops at the line of scrimmage into 3 or 4 yard gains.
Very glad we called that guy.
—First win over Georgia Tech (1-2), first win in the state of Georgia (1-3), first win in the Aflack Kickoff Game (1-2).
—Speaking of Jordan, it was odd to see him sidelined for so long during the second half. Not sure if it was an injury or just the staff thinking a change of pace was needed, but he certainly made his first touch back on the field worth the wait.
—Outside of the holding call (which I thought was weak, but I guess close enough) Quincy Riley was once again rock solid at corner. It was also nice to see Storm Duck make a great play to break up Tech’s 2-point conversion try.
—I do wonder if Plummer’s start would have been better if Jimmy Calloway makes the easy catch on his first throw. That stalled the opening drive and seemed to kick off the stretch where Plummer couldn’t get his first game jitters under control.
—Speaking of Calloway, you could see why the staff wants to get the ball into his hands, but also — my guy, you can’t false start as a receiver on a 3rd and 1 dive play. That could have been an absolute killer.
—Louisville transfer running backs playing against Louisville are good for at least two touchdowns every time the situation occurs. Congrats to Trey Cooley on a very solid night.
—At the end of the day, we needed something good to happen.
Seeing the enthusiasm that the Brohm hire brought get stopped in its tracks by yet another week one disappointment would have been an awfully difficult blow to absorb.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that. Thankfully, we get to ride the high of a fairly thrilling comeback win into what should be the largest post-COVID crowd at Cardinal Stadium for a Thursday night blackout. Thankfully, something good happened.