If before the campaign you knew you’d be ranked #3 and heading into your second Game Day of the still young season against another Top 5 foe, and you’d just won on the road by 31 points to a feisty opponent that had beaten you four times in a row, and your Flavor of the Month star had done nothing to diminish his Heisman hype, wouldn’t you be satisfied and have said “I’ll take it?”
The answer is, “Of course.”
Yes, we knew, at least most of us, that this was a classic trap of sorts. Even though the Thundering Herd were throttled the week before, there was no way Doc Holliday’s squad wasn’t going to be ready to give maximum effort against the Cards on their home turf. It was an encounter fraught with peril.
Louisville, despite a gnawing post-game discomfort — at least, for me — survived triumphant, relatively unscathed.
Yet there are some warning lights flashing that must not be ignored. This despite the presence of much of the excellence that fans have come to expect in this surprising season to remember.
Two matters glare, statistics which can’t be ignored, or tossed off as just a bad night on the gridiron.
As in U of L being assessed 143 yards in penalties on 12 infractions, several for unsportsmanlike conduct. This was 48 more infraction yards than Marshall, which came into the game as the most penalized team in the nation.
Take away: Louisville lost focus, and its cool. Instead of playing steady as an upper echelon team should, it fell prey to the taunts of its lesser antagonist, felt too often the need to woof back or flex its superiority needlessly.
As in nine times Lamar Jackson was hurried on passing downs. Most were early on, but this porous pass protection came just a week after U of L surrendered only a single QBH against Florida State.
Take away: The offensive line, resting on the laurels that came its way for a nigh perfect performance the week before, didn’t come ready to play.
One might even argue that LJ’s relatively mundane evening rushing the ball (62 yards on 12 carries) can be blamed on the OL.
As in three TDs allowed in the fourth quarter. Including one with 2:41 to play. Which came after the Herd tallied twice in 15 seconds early in the 4th, requiring Jackson to be reinserted — dangerously it could be argued with the game out of reach — to engineer a steadying 6:49 drive for Louisville’s final score.
Take away: U of L’s defensive depth may not be as voluminous as it previously appeared.
So I reiterate. Like most U of L fans I am satisfied, flabbergasted frankly, never having conceptualized that the Cardinals, Lamar Jackson and the defense particularly, would have justifiably risen to such a lofty national prominence so quickly this season.
Expectations have been raised.
We expect the spectacular.
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And there was indeed plenty of that also on display last night.
On an “off night,” Lamar Jackson, last seen before kickoff in Huntington on the cover of Sports Illustrated, again dominated the game in his accustomed manner U of L fans have never seen before. Ever.
He was responsible for five TDs in the air. Several with pinpoint passes that were simply jaw dropping pretty. 24/44. 417 yards.
He scored twice on the ground. His second on a nine yard scamper was a brilliantly conceived scheme, underscoring yet again what a brilliant play designer and caller Bobby Petrino is.
Jackson’s presence (meaning his impressive manner not just that he was there) led Louisville to six scoring drives that took less than a minute.
Todd Grantham’s first team defense was a beast. Again.
Marshall was held to six three and outs, and only two third down conversions in 16 possessions.
It surrendered but 135 yards total through three quarters, 88 by land, 47 by air. Six TFLS, a couple of sacks. Devonte Fields had 8 tackles, plus one seriously athletic pick. Josh Harvey-Clemons led the Card with 11 stops. Zykiesis Cannon had nine.
Brandon Radcliff had another huge night. 131 yards rushing on 19 totes, with a TD.
Malik Williams starred on Louisville’s last drive, running twice for 54 yards, 50 of which came on a speedy run around right end and down the sideline. Even though it would have been piling on, I was hoping Petrino would run a last play instead of letting the clock expire, so that Williams might score. And the Cards would top 60.
Jamari Staples led the receivers with five catches. James Quick had four. But it was Cole Hikutini who most impressed with a couple of nifty grabs in the endzone, among his four catches. (The second was another Petrino special. Marvelously conceived. Beautiful throw. Great catch.)
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Next up: Clemson. Game Day. Prime Time Saturday Night.
— Seedy K