(Except, of course, those boffo bashes back in the day, hosted by the Louisville Rugby Club. At one Derby Eve celebration, there were so many revelers at the cottage off River Road, the porch collapsed. Fortunately it was a short one, nobody was hurt, and we bonged our way til the break of day, sidestepping the wreckage when necessary.)
The sport itself? Well, too much, I dunno, uh, what they call male bonding, you know, groups of guys interlocked with the pile moving a yard or two this way, then a yard or three in another direction, and the ball somewhere underneath. Then someone reaches underneath the guys’ butts to grab the pigskin, like gathering an egg or something, then tossing it to a teammate off to the side out of the fray, who then takes off like he’s stolen a candy bar from Quick Stop.
But, I couldn’t help but think scrum, during what was my favorite play of yesterday’s 20-10 slog over listless Wake Forest.
Up by 7 with six and a half minutes to play, the Cards had just avoided another punt return blunder eerily like that which occurred in Charlottesville. Return guys James Quick and Eli Rogers collided when both went to field the punt. But, U of L held on.
First and 10 at the Demon Deacons 39. Another U of L tally necessary to seal the deal. The day’s rushing star Brandon Radcliff smashed into the middle of the line, where he was soon surrounded by a swarm of WF defenders. Who were then surrounded by a swarm of Cardinals.
Of the 22 participants on the field, 2/3s at least were in the scrum, which, like some overfed centipede, trundled toward the visitors goal line. For a 15 yard gain.
The crowd was energized. The Cardinals got close enough for a 34 yard John Wallace FG to seal the deal.
* * * * *
My second favorite hike of the battle, and arguably the most important of the hot afternoon, was the first play of the 4th Q.
The Cards’ O had been sputtering like a used Yugo all day. WF led 10-7, on a score midway through the 3d Q by its D, a recovered fumble in the U of L end zone.
During the media break between quarters, Lee Handel of the Cardinal Authority, sitting a couple of seats away, wondered aloud why there weren’t more designed scampers for Bonnafon?
As if on cue, Bobby Petrino called for a semi play action run by his frosh QB over the right side. It worked for 15 yards.
At which point, Handel called for a high five. After which we were admonished, since, decorum requires no cheering in the press box.
Six running plays later — one by Bonnafon, five by Radcliff — U of L was in the end zone, retaking the advantage for good, 14-10.
* * * * *
Much of the abundant recent consternation among Cardinal faithful has been concern about the running game. Michael Dyer in particular.
When will his injury heal? Is he really hurt, or in the doghouse?
Well, Dyer was ready yesterday.
Brandon Radcliff was readier. A whole lot readier.
The redshirt sophomore from Miami had his breakout performance.
17 carries for 129 yards. Two TDs, one from 29 yards away, the other from 16. Plus that scrum run when he was the engine that propelled the mass forward.
Dyer was serviceable with 41 net yards on 14 carries. Bonnafon gained 71 yards on planned runs, though his stats include the minus yardage from sacks.
Dominique Brown, as predicted here,1 was a non factor. Three carries. One wafer thin net yard. A lost fumble.
L.J. Scott was essentially M.I.A.2
* * * * *
Reggie Bonnafon gets a pass for the whole day.
The week before last he didn’t practice a single day.
Last Saturday, the true freshman, still a teenager, buried his father.
Then Sunday, due to Will Gardner’s injury, the Trinity grad became the starting QB, four months and five college games after his H.S. graduation, and one week after losing a beloved parent.
Thus, I am disinclined to rag about fumbles, missed handoffs, missed receivers or sketchy decisions.
He showed enough poise and maturity to get the job done on offense. To ask anything else of him would be inconsiderate.
* * * * *
Speaking of poise and maturity, how about the real star of the day? Heck, the real star of the season so far.
Todd Grantham’s defense.
I know the Georgia Bulldog fans were happy to see him ago, advising him to lock the door on the way out. But, hey, Athens loss is Derbytown’s gain.
Wake Forest, admittedly the ACC’s weakling, was -22 rushing.
Let’s break it down, to highlight Louisville’s defensive dominance.
Eight sacks, including three by battered Lorenzo Mauldin, for a negative 57 yards. The Demon Deacons actually gained 40 positive yards on not a whole lot of rushing attempts. Fifteen to be exact. On two other occasions, Demon Deacon rushers were downed behind the line of scrimmage.
But 22 of those positive yards came on two carries in the final minutes of the game, on Wake Forest’s last possession, when U of L was in Hail Mary Prevention mode. Meaning WF had but 18 positive rushing yards in the game’s first 57 minutes.
Gerod Hollimon got another pick, to add to his nation leading total. James Burgess tallied an interception, and just missed another. And Sheldon Rankins grabbed a look what I found pick on an attempted shuffle pass.
The visitors left town with but an inconsequential 122 yards in the air.
* * * * *
I thought Bobby Petrino’s fake punt was legit call, even if the coach chastised himself for his decision in the post game Q & A.
It was bold move. It didn’t work.
No harm. No foul. Woeful Wake Forest gave it back a few downs later.
* * * * *
It was a herky jerky day for U of L.
Okay, let’s be fair, a herky jerky offensive day. The Cards had but two crisp, efficient offensive possessions.
The special teams still need work. A ten yard punt isn’t acceptable. A boffo James Quick punt return was nullified by a stupid block in the back, essentially a 45 yard penalty.
But, when it mattered, in the 4th Q which U of L entered behind by a FG, they closed the deal, scoring 13 unanswered.
* * * * *
Now the schedule gets tough.
Syracuse on Friday night in a Yom Kippur game. Then a visit a week hence to Clemson’s Death Valley.3
Followed by feisty N.C. State, which gave Florida State a scare yesterday, then the Seminoles visit, followed by road trips to Beantown and South Bend. Improving Kentucky arrives to end the regular season campaign.
Let’s get forthright here. The Cardinals might be nip and tuck to reach that hallowed status these days, known as Bowl Eligibility.
It’s time for the Cards to tighten up and batten down. That I’m carping about a 4-1 team is a sign of how far U of L football has come.
— Seedy K