Louisville Card File: Virginia

cardfootballOn the most revelatory college pigskin Saturday of the campaign, the road to the Final Four narrowed considerably, becoming much more arduous for the Louisville Cardinals.

On a U of L squad with legitimate CFB Playoff/ New Year’s Six aspirations, several key players and one unit turned in Belk Bowl performances.

On a day in Charlottesville when the Cards again seemed surprisingly out of sync on both sides of the ball, they proved their mettle by grinding out a win.

All of which I’ll get to, but let’s begin with Lamar Jackson, who while playing very good but at less than peak performance level, showed his Heisman worthy mettle.

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With 1:57 to play, Louisville got the ball back with a chance to redeem itself.

It needn’t have come down to this, but it had.

The Cards, playing behind most of the day, finally took the lead early in the 4th, then increased it to 7 with a FG. But, in a manner that hearkened back to the Duke escape, Todd Grantham’s defense gave up a grind ’em out, who’s got the most manly men drive to retake the lead.

14 plays. 75 yards. 6:12 on the clock. Then a gutsy Virginia two point conversion to take a 25-24 advantage, with under 2:00 to play.

Is LJ truly a transcendent signal caller, ready to grab the game by the short and curlies when adversity strikes?

Are the Cardinals really one of the nation’s five best teams, able to survive when it’s improbable?

The answers: Yes. And, yes.

LJ rush for 18 yards to the Cardinal 43.

Brandon Radcliff carry for 7 yards to midfield.

Two incomplete, and not very precise, passes leaving Louisville with a 4th & 3 at the 50.

LJ to ever ready, ever steady Cole Hikutini for 5 yards, and a new set of downs.

LJ for 9 yards. Then LJ for 7 yards. 1st & 10 at the Cavalier 29 with :18 left to play. Time out Louisville. (As with most outfits facing such a late game challenge, college or pro, U of L’s clock management left a lot to be desired.)

Not to worry. Taking a one step drop out of the shotgun, Lamar Jackson lofted a pin point perfect pass to the right corner of the endzone, the recipient of which was Jaylen Smith, who made a very tough five star catch for the winning TD.

The same duo connected for a two point conversion, and a seven point 32-25 lead.

On UVa’s final play, the Cardinals registered a sack to secure the victory. It was the U of L D’s one and only sack of the day.

From the jaws of defeat . . . etc, etc, etc.

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There are now but four unbeaten Power Five schools, each with a legit shot of winning out. In which case, they will obviously comprise the Final Four.

Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and Washington.

Cardinal fans were hoping for UDub to slip at Utah. Didn’t happen. Chris Petersen’s Huskies are legit.

Louisville remains #5 in the minds of most “experts.” Of course, there is, as they say. lots of football yet to be played. The Cards still have to visit Houston, and the Cougars remain a formidable outfit.

I’m guessing the Orange Bowl may be the Cards’ ceiling this campaign. Think of how that statement is fraught with irony: In a “disappointing” finale of the year, U of L has to settle for the Orange Bowl.

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The mention of Clemson has me wondering yet again how things might stand had over-hyped James Quick veered right in Death Valley instead of skipping to the sideline?

Which is an especially relevant contemplation, given Quick’s woeful performance early yesterday. Several drops in key situations on the Cards’ first couple drives. Announcer Mike Bellotti pointedly observed, after a Quick drop, “Jackson’s not getting much help from his receivers.”

Louisville’s “highest ranked recruit ever” registered 0 receptions for the day.

Here comes the broken record. More less than acceptable play from Louisville’s still yet to jell offensive line. They surrendered five sacks, and ten TFLs. It cost Lamar Jackson 44 yards on his rushing stat line. They were whistled for holding thrice on U of L’s last drive of the opening half.

Micky Crum whiffed on a block, allowing an unimpeded sack of LJ on a 4th & 3, ending Louisville’s second drive of the 2d Q.

On 3d Down, during the Cards opening drive after halftime, Jeremy Smith caught a swing pass from LJ, then failed to plunge forward with championship quality toughness and effort to gain the 1st. The Cards were forced to punt, after a 3 & out.

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On the plus side:

Reggie Bonnafon — remember him — grabbed two TD passes.

Seven different Cardinals, none named Quick, registered receptions. Led by Jamari Staples with 7, and Hikutini with 6.

Blanton Creque is showing he may become a steady presence when a FG attempt is necessary.

Future All-America Jaire Alexander had six tackles, a break up, and two interceptions. After the second he fashioned a beautiful jitterbugging return for serious yardage. That led to U of L’s go ahead TD.

Next: Boston College.

— Seedy K

11 thoughts on “Louisville Card File: Virginia

  1. Did Quick even play in the second half? I don’t recall seeing him. If he did play I’m pretty sure he wasn’t targeted on any passes

  2. The ease with which the Cavaliers scored their last TD and 2 point conversion was disturbing and disheartening. (lots of disses there) However I got over after our final drive. Now beside UDub we now have to pull for A&M to lose. Think they have @ Arkansas and LSU at home to finish.

  3. If they continue to play like they did against Duke and Virginia, the Wake Forest, Houston and Kentucky games are loseable.

  4. I have finally been able to peel myself from my seat. I used the time well–to re-watch what I deemed an unwatchable game from High noon Saturday until 3:40 p.m. Not that anyone cares, but my thoughts:

    We sleep-walked throught the first half. After James Q did very little with a whole lot early, I think LJ started pressing. His passes were not up to his usual standards. Accuracy (more importantly, setting his feet before throwing the 10-20 yarders) was lacking on a number of occasions. I suspect that his talent is so transcendent that these “easy” throws do not challenge him enough to focus on his fundamentals. KInda like the shortstop who makes the great play in the hole, but boots the easy 2 hopper or sails the throw into the dugout.

    On defense in the first half, there were many plays where we would hit the rb or QB–esp’ly Mizell (#4)– in the backfield only to see him squirm away back to the line of scrimmage or to gain 3-4 instead of losing yards. We gave up way too much cushion on 2nd and long and let them gain close to or past the LOS. On offense, we had it first and goal on the UVA 3 with 10 minutes or so to go in the 4th Q. On first down, we jumped. Yikes. We ended up settleing for a 32 yard field goal. TD there and its a 2 score game and all the mo’ is on our side instead……..a 6 minute drive that you reference above.

    Our DL seldom got any pressure on the QB and when we did, we rushed too deep letting him escape up the middle. This usually means the DT’s (Brown, Richardson and Bailey were either getting handled or were too lazy to stay in their rush lanes. Greenard was somewhat ineffective after his break-out game vs. NCstate. The safety play was suspect and even ol’ reliable Kelsey was caught walking instead of providing his consistent level of high play and effort. On one play in particular, the DB made a good play and the ball deflected high into the air. Alas, once the ball hit the reciever, double nickle stopped running and started walking. By the time he noticed the ball was up for grabs and started running again, it was too late and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. Proabale INT and TD if he had been hustling through the play.

    Even Jaire—as good as he is and as big as his 2 picks were—was beaten by a pedistrian receiver for big plays on occasion down by the goal line.

    On the other hand, UVA didn’t play as poorly as I had seen them throughout the year. Bronco is an excellent coach and he had them ready with a good game plan. For the most part, they were excellent.

    The firstQ TD pass into the deep corner was superb. The Va. QB threw the ball to the back pylon when Jaire and the receiver were legally engaged at about our 8 yard line. The timing was incredible. It was truly a perfect pass and catch that not even the Tide of Alabama could have prevented. It was every bit as good of a play as the TD to Smith that won the game for us.

    Finally, there were two key plays that decided the game. The first: in Q4 we had them 4th and 7 with 3 minutes to go. They sent the reciever down the middle and he was double covered by Cannon and Williams. Somehow, the ball barely got over Cannon’s hands and the reciever caught it on the 5 before Chucky could get a hand on it. Truly, if the ball i s3 inches shorter or 3 inches longer, we have it first down on the 39 with under 3 to play.

    The last still scares me. For some reason, after Lamar basically runs unimpeded down field after we get the ball with less than 2 to play, we pass twice and hand-off to Bad Rad. It is 4th and 3. Cole H runs a 5 yard curl and–somehow–the pass gets through 2 sets of hands and to Cole for the catch and we get another 4 downs. I watched that play a dozen times and still can’t see how it got to him. Pure Luck? Devine Guidance?

    I don’t care….32-25 good guys….

  5. JGJ, astute observations all. I am still struck by the lack of improvement by OL. Perhaps even regression from Florida State game. And I’ve a sense this team still doesn’t quite understand how hard it has to work all the time to make the Final Four. LJ is still learning. The D lapses are seriously disturbing.

  6. Our fan base has to not fall into the trap of thinking the Orange Bowl is a consolation prize; IF we win out, and that is a big if, and go to the Orange Bowl, then we will have had a hugely successful season. I don’t think we’re as good as we looked against FSU & NC ST, but we’re not as bad as we looked against Duke & VA. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Believe it or not I think we can be better next year.

  7. All true, BB. My point was the irony of how far the program has come. Orange Bowl obviously not a consolation prize. But, for really the first time ever, U of L is considered a legit national contender, and Final Four possibility. Something, for us long long long time fans, that’s hard to grasp.

  8. I don’t think we realize how far and how high we have come in such a short time. Every yak show on ESPNU talks about the team and Lamar. Heady stuff for those of us who have been football diehards for many years. I mean look at the traditional powers that we are rated above. Don’t wake me up !

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