That’s what Louisville Cardinal fans have been screaming to the pundits and Final Four Selection Committee.
Forget the strength of schedule and other metrics you take into consideration, the faithful have brayed, watch the Cards on the field and see for yourself.
Which the nation was able to do on Thursday Night Prime Time.
So how’d the Louisville Cardinals do?
I won’t mince words.
The University of Louisville Cardinals choked.
The coaches graded out an F. The players graded out an F.
In the most important game of the season, arguably one of the biggest in the history of U of L football, the program wasn’t ready for Prime Time.
The Cards fumbled the opening kickoff when the receiver ran into one of his blockers. Houston scored on the ensuing play, its first from scrimmage on a swing pass when the receiver was wide open. Louisville drew a false start on its first play of the next drive. Then went three and out.
It got worse. A lot worse.
(Caveat. If you’re looking to read about some silver lining, you might as well move along. You won’t find one here.)
When Louisville got the ball down 24-0, it committed a penalty on the kickoff, then a false start on the first play. The ESPN sideline reporter spoke of fights among the players along the sideline.
When Louisville got the ball for its last futile, failing effort of the opening half, it had more punts than first downs.
(Okay, I lied. There was one positive. Punter Mason King boomed it all night, averaging 51 yards on his punts. I couldn’t help but think of one season during the awful T.W. Alley Era, when punter Wilbur Summers was far and away U of L’s best player.)
Louisville fumbled the ball three times. Louisville receivers dropped passes. Lamar Jackson overthrew and underthrew the ball.
Louisville was penalized 114 yards on 15 infractions, most committed by the Offensive Line, which, as commentator Jesse Palmer said, “played the worst game by an offensive line in memory.”
Louisville defense gave up not one but two trick plays. A fake punt for a critical first down. A halfback pass for a touchdown.
After U of L showed a hint of heart early in the 3d Q, scoring on an LJ to Cole Hikutini pass after holding the Cougars to a 3 & Out, it reverted to form. LJ fumbled the ball in the Red Zone on the next drive.
Louisville — Read: the Offensive Line — surrendered 11 sacks and 12 TFLs. Five of those Houston defensive stops came from freshman phenom Ed Oliver, who also broke up two passes and had a QB Hurry. As a team, Houston had 9 QBHs, and 5 pass break ups, twice as many as the Cardinals.
If Lamar Jackson, the clear Heisman favorite — at least before last night’s debacle — is “the best player in the country,” what’s that make Ed Oliver?
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The coaching staff, from Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham on down, are equally as responsible for non-performance, probably more so.
Here’s what I don’t understand, with some perspective: I rarely attend practice, but did a few times not this season but last. After each of those OL coach Chris Klenakis did a short Q & A. All the perspective he could give on the OL’s “progress,” was “We’re grinding.” Which he’d say repeatedly.
After the season, I was thinking Petrino might find a new coach for the OL, given how little it had improved in ’15. Instead, Klenakis was named Co-Offensive Coordinator, in addition to his more than full time duties, attempting to get the OL up to speed.
Truth: The Offensive Line has gotten worse, not better, as this season has progressed. Last night’s deplorable performance was, to be honest, hardly a surprise.
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In a position to prove its worth, to prove it belongs among the elite with the entirety of the Pigskin Planet tuned in, the Louisville Cardinals simply didn’t show up.
Next Up: Kentucky. It’s going to be fascinating to see if Bobby Petrino can pull his team together for the big rivalry game? The Wildcats are not a gimme.
— Seedy K