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Louisville’s End-of-Season Collapse: A Postmortem November 27, 2016

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It’s still too painful to watch.

Without a doubt, Louisville’s upset loss at home to rival Kentucky is the most unsettling thing I have witnessed thus far in this entire college football season.  The Cardinals were rolling for so long, despite a relatively early-season loss to mighty conference foe Clemson.  But even then, that was on the road, in arguably the most hostile, difficult setting in the ACC, under primetime lights, no less.  The Cardinals quickly regrouped, and still managed to mount a plausible playoff campaign.

Until the game at Houston on Nov. 19.  The Cougars started very strongly as well, but then got upset twice, first to Navy, then mysteriously to lowly SMU.  But two Thursdays ago, Houston showed up ready to play, and, in hindsight, hungry for redemption.  It showed.  The Cougars had legitimate athletes on the defensive line that made Louisville QB Lamar Jackson’s life miserable the whole night.  Defensively, Louisville’s defense never could get dialed in.  In the end, Houston, then unranked, walloped Louisville, 36-10.

It did not help the Cardinals that it was a Thursday night game.  They had to make a quick preparation turnaround after facing fundamentally sound Wake Forest the previous Saturday evening.  But still, championship-caliber teams would not rest on that excuse.  They would show up to play, and win.

Such a loss should have been a wake-up call, to both the coaches and the players.  Bobby Petrino should have used this as a teaching tool to his players, to remind them of the need to bring your best game no matter the circumstances, and to not take all teams seriously, no matter how inexplicable their previous losses may have been.  Frankly, how a team like Houston could have lost to either of those other two teams remains the biggest mystery of the season.

Win or lose, Louisville nevertheless had extra time to lick their wounds, recover, and prepare for the season-ending game, at home, to rival Kentucky.  The oddsmakers had Louisville favored by three touchdowns.  Except that Kentucky continued to slug in out in the brutal SEC, against NFL-grade bodies.  In short, the Wildcats were battle-hardened, and like the Cougars before them, they showed up ready to play, even though this time they were the visitors.

What should have, on paper, been a borderline body bag game in favor of the Cardinals quickly turned into a game-spanning grind.  On offense, the Cardinals committed four turnovers, while their defense continued to be as porous as they were against Houston over a week earlier.  A last-minute field goal clinched it for the Wildcats, who took home the Governor’s Cup for the first time since 2010.

A long-time truism said by many a coach is that the team that make the fewest mistakes wins.  Obviously, those four turnovers on the part of Louisville cost them dearly.  One less interception, and the outcome would likely be different.

But even so, systemic problems have developed that have, in hindsight, become evident in the past two debacles of games.  For one, while Petrino has done an outstanding job recruiting skill position players, he seems to have neglected his lines (yes, both of them).  Surely his time in the NFL, brief though it was, would have taught him that one builds a team from the inside out, not vice-versa.  In other words, a wise man/coach builds his team around his offensive and defensive lines.  That deficiency became very glaring during the debacle against Houston, where again, the Cougars had real athletes on their defensive line, and it retarded Louisville’s offensive production accordingly.

Perhaps Petrino did know this vital maxim but delegated the building that part of the team to an assistant coach.  If so, that was an obvious mistake.  If he were not aware, hopefully these last two embarrassments will bring this deficiency to his attention.

Another issue is that the offense seems to have come to rely too heavily on QB Lamar Jackson, making Louisville a one-trick pony.  As insanely, freakishly talented as Lamar is, he relies, at this point, too much on rhythm.  If he is off-rhythm, the whole offense suffers.  The Cardinals have at least two good runningbacks, both productive, and yet they were under-utilized on account of the coaches being seduced by the siren song of creating sexiness and sizzle with Lamar at the expense of wearing down other teams’ defenses with methodically-sustained drives.

But perhaps the biggest problem of all is a chronic deficiency in discipline, which was evident by too many penalties.  These penalties obviously hamstrung the Cardinals during key moments throughout the season.  Any discerning fan or coach would also point out that relying on raw talent to overcome these penalties and mental mistakes is a fool’s errand, for there are teams such as Alabama and Ohio State that are both incredibly talented athletically and for more disciplined.

Yes, Louisville is a very talented team, but obviously they are not exempt from paying a heavy price in the end from such a lack of discipline.  The most effective systemic solution, as politically incorrect as this may sound, is for Petrino to recruit a few more white players.  This is serious.  The comparative analysis of the black player vs white player goes something like this.  With black players, there is the obvious benefit of greater athletic talent, but the drawback is, one cannot count on a consistent performance from many, if not most of them.  Conversely, with white players, the athletic talent/output is usually not as great as it is with most black players, but on the plus side, one can always count on a consistent effort from the whites.

Bottom line:  too many blacks on a team tends to lead to a lack of discipline, and Louisville this year has been a perfect example of this.  On the other hand, having too many whites leads to insufficient athleticism and comparative, well, sluggishness.  Nevertheless, to be a consistently effective team, one needs both.  Think of it as building a wall.  One needs both bricks and mortar.  Think of the black players as bricks.  A wall just of bricks can be well-stacked, yet easily toppled because there is nothing to bind them together.  Conversely, the white players are the mortar.  A wall of just sculpted mortar is theoretically possible, but it’s limited in terms of how one can practically build said wall.  One needs both bricks and mortar in order to build a wall of optimal size and strength, hence optimal effectiveness.  In the same vein, a strong, consistently effective team needs both black players for athletic prowess and white players for consistency and examples of discipline.  A good example of this is Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh team, which clung tenaciously to Clemson for that entire game in Death Valley, and capitalized on the last-second opportunity they earned.

Petrino would thus be well-served to recruit a few more whites.  Doing so will instill much-needed discipline in his team.  That, along with better line play and more of a running game will eliminate the risk of a sudden collapse like this year, and at the same time, put the team in a far better position to make the playoffs next year.  Onward and upward.

Disclaimer:  You self-appointed, politically-correct thought police better sit down and shut up.  We all know how hysterical you are, crying “racism” even more often than the boy who cried wolf.  There are no racist statements here at all regarding the aforementioned observations of black vs. white players.  The more you cry racism when none exists, the more you cheapen it and make normal people all the more apt to ignore it when such an abhorrent thing actually occurs.  Sell your crazy somewhere else.

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College Football Week 9 Awards October 27, 2014

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Leonard Fournette

(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Lucky guy: Les Miles, LSU

Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Desperately seeking … anything: Brady Hoke, Michigan

 

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Wisconsin (defeated Maryland 52-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: East Carolina (defeated UConn 31-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UAB (lost to Arkansas 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kentucky (lost to Mississippi State 45-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Georgia Tech (defeated Pittsburgh 56-28)

Dang, they’re good: TCU
Dang, they’re bad: Kent State

You know, they’re not so bad: Arkansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Minnesota

Did the season start? BYU
Can the season end? Michigan
Can the season never end? Michigan State

 

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 5 Auburn 42, South Carolina, 35

Play this again, too: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7
Never play this again: No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27

What? Illinois 27, Minnesota 24

Huh? Miami 30, Virginia Tech 6
Are you kidding me? North Carolina 28, Virginia 27

Oh – my – God: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for: No. 4 Auburn @ No. 7 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. Navy

Best non-Power Five matchup: San Diego State @ Nevada

Upset alert: No. 2 Florida State @ Louisville

Must win: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Offensive explosion: No.10 TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Florida vs. No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville
Great game no one is talking about: Kentucky @ Missouri

Intriguing coaching matchup: Rich Rodriguez of Arizona vs. Jim Mora of UCLA

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 12 Baylor

Why are they playing? Old Dominion @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Appalachian State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Cincinnati @ Tulane

 

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

  • There is a reason they call Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. It is the place where dreams go to die – other teams’ dreams that is. Ole Miss was having the most phenomenal season of the program in about 52 years, and seemed to be on a collision course for vying for the national title. After a neat playing at LSU, that is now seriously in doubt. The really interesting aspect of it all? The score: the Tigers triumphed over the Rebels 10-7. Such an old-fashioned score was, ironically, a great nod to the classic rivalry and the memorable games during the Eagle Day and Billy Cannon eras thereof.
  • One cannot recall a more valiant effort given on the part of South Carolina the previous evening. Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier knew going in that he was out-gunned and undermanned going into Jordan-Hare Stadium to face a fearsome Auburn Tigers squad. But the Gamecocks gave it their all, took incredible risks on 4th down throughout the evening – mirabile dictu, they converted more often than not – and almost succeeded in the end. Almost. What ultimately turned out to be South Carolina’s undoing was their quarterback, Dylan Thompson, who had a habit of throwing fade route passes towards the sideline and almost always failing to connect with his receivers, overthrowing them constantly. Granted, over-the-middle passes are always more risky than those thrown towards the sidelines, but Thompson succeeded more often in the middle of the field, and it is a shame that he did not go on that same instinct late in the game. Had he done so, the Gamecocks might have pulled off one of the grandest upsets of the year.
  • Few fans outside of the Pacific Time Zone might have witnessed this, but the No. 19 Utah Utes defeated the No. 20 USC Trojans, 24-21. How fitting a score for two teams ranked literally right next to one-another, with the correct, higher-ranked team, winning? Every now and then, the pollsters literally do get it right!
  • Pride commeth before the fall. Since a Michigan player made a “little brother” comment about their in-state, intra-conference rival Michigan State at a press conference several years ago, Sparty has gone 6-1 in said rivalry. In an established rivalry between two programs, Rule No. 1 is that you show said rival respect. With the Spartans having humiliated the Wolverines yet again, 35-11, we have just witnessed the potential penalty made manifest for violating said rule. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

College Football Week 7 Awards October 15, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 7, pre-week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Glad I’m not him: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a clue: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Riley, Oregon State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything:  Gene Chizik, Auburn

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Florida State (beat Boston College 51-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (beat Indiana 52-49)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Missouri (lost to No.1 Alabama 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Oklahoma State 20-14)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Arizona State (beat Colorado 51-17)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Illinois
Did the season start? Auburn
Can the season end?  Colorado
Can the season never end? Oregon State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 20 Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57
Never play this again: No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
What? Arizona State 51, Colorado 17

Huh?  No. 7 Ohio State 52, Indiana 49
Are you kidding me? No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
Oh – my – God:  Texas Tech 49, No. 17 West Virginia 14

Told you so:  No. 4 Kansas State 27, Iowa State 21

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 South Carolina @ No. 3 Florida
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Middle Tennessee State @ No. 15 Mississippi State
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana Monroe @ Western Kentucky
Upset alert: No. 2 Oregon @ Arizona State

Must win: Baylor @ Texas
Offensive explosion: No. 4 Kansas State @ No. 17 West Virginia
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Iowa
Great game no one is talking about: Nebraska @ Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of LSU vs. Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M
Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 14 Georgia @ Kentucky

Why are they playing? Pittsburgh @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ Eastern Michigan

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Colorado @ No. 11 USC

Week 7: Thoughts on the week:

Passing the test:  Every good team eventually has to pass a test.  The team can be undefeated, well-ranked, but doubts will still remain, doubts that can be summed up with the partly-rhetorical question, “whom have they played?”  Several teams passed the test today.  No. 16 Louisville passed the test by winning on the road against the toughest team they have played yet in Pittsburgh.  The Notre Dame apologists feel that the Irish have passed a test in squeaking by No. 22 Stanford at home in overtime.  Mike Riley has been quietly winning games at Oregon State this year, and the tests he has already passed were mostly tests in hindsight.  I say “mostly” because the opening game/win was over a Wisconsin team that had understandably high expectations.  Two more victories have come over resurgent programs in UCLA and Arizona, albeit at different stages in that key regard.

But though these teams have passed these tests, more remain.  A much greater trial awaits the Louisville Cardinals when they take on Cincinnati.  The huge tests that await Notre Dame are listed later in this article entry.  Meanwhile, Oregon State’s upcoming tests are exceedingly daunting, what with Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, and finally, Oregon, still remaining on the schedule.

Then there are the teams that failed to pass the test, most notably South Carolina, who lost in a close one to LSU in Death Valley.  A win could have strengthened their bid to lead the SEC East, but the loss means they must now hand Florida its first loss of the season in The Swamp.  Sometimes make-up tests are more difficult – with more on the line – than the original thing.

Red River Rout:  For the third consecutive year, Texas has lost ignominiously to arch-rival Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry game.  Coaches have been known to summarily get the ax on account of not being able to beat their rivals (see: Cooper, John, or Bowden, Bobby [later years]).  Could it be that Mack Brown, as genial a man as there is in the upper echelons of this business, finally be wearing out his welcome in Austin?  Goodness knows he is running out of excuses for his chronic under-performance over the past three years.  In the time since they lost valiantly to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship game, the Horns have failed to be bowl eligible in one of those seasons, and have failed to beat the Sooners in all three.  This is an unacceptable situation given that he coaches the team that is the flagship school in the biggest, best football state in the entire country; a team whose cache helped launch the school’s own ESPN-powered sports network, and a program that has the pick of the litter for top talent in the Lone Star State.  Yet with all of these advantages, combined with much-improved QB play from David Ash, Brown is bereft of playmakers, something for which there is simply no excuse, given the ideal location of the program.  The inescapable conclusion becomes that Brown’s tenure has reached the end of its effectiveness, hence that he must go.  Nothing personal, Mack; it’s just business.

Paging Bobby Petrino:  Okay, so if Texas fires Mack Brown, with whom shall they replace him?  Bobby Petrino seems to be an obvious choice.  Yes, Petrino gives mercenaries a bad name; yes, his system is so seemingly unstable that nobody else can operate it in his absence (see:  Arkansas; see: Louisville, pre-Charlie Strong).  But he wins.  The athletics department at the University of Texas not only has the resources to pay him a handsomely competitive salary, but can supply him with his own young mistresses if he wishes to add that to his contract as a benefit – no need to add them to the team staff payroll on the sly!  More to the point though, a team with the resources and tradition of Texas under the leadership of Bobby Petrino could make Nick Saban’s Alabama team seem almost anemic by comparison, and would give the arrogant Bob Stoops of Oklahoma more than cause for notice.

Who needs Mike Leach?  The Dread Pirate Leach might have put Texas Tech on the map with his spread offense on steroids, but he is hardly missed this weekend in Lubbock.  How could one, what with Tommy Tuberville regenerating excitement for the program with a huge upset win over West Virginia?  Geno Smith and Co. seemed almost invincible going into Week 7’s game, but then they ran into a team with a secondary built to stop the big pass plays that had until yesterday fueled the Mountaineer’s undefeated run.  Funny how things work out like that.  A win of this magnitude (49-15) over a top-ten opponent (WVU was No. 5 going into the game) ought to merit a ranking of some sort for Texas Tech.

Settle down, Notre Dame fan:  Does any reasonably objective individual believe that if Stanford and Notre Dame met on a neutral site, and/or if the game were not soaked by a torrential rain, that the Cardinal would not have triumphed?  As it is, the Fighting Irish had to squeak by in overtime, and only then because Stanford made two consecutive bone-headed calls during their post-regulation possession.  The point in all this is, if Notre Dame has a decent undefeated run, scores of apologists fall all over themselves to overvalue the team with an unduly high ranking.  The team is in for a rude awakening in two weeks when it ventures in to Norman to take on Oklahoma.  An almost-as-rigorous test will come at season’s end in Los Angeles Coliseum against USC.  You ND apologists maybe laughing now, but just you wait.

Ditch those gray camo unis, South Carolina:  I very much appreciate you guys trying to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project or whatever it is you’re into these days.  It is most commendable.  But the effort ought not to obscure your glorious Garnet and Black, one of the best color combos in Big Boy Football these days.  Wear ‘em with pride, boys.  Gray jerseys?  Yuck!  Garnet jerseys?  Sweet.

About the Big XII title:  Since the nominal Big XII has an insufficient amount of members to justify a championship game, Kansas State is currently in the driver’s seat for the championship distinction.  This has become clear after Oklahoma’s loss recent loss to the Wildcats, followed by West Virginia’s defeat at the hands of Texas Tech yesterday.  Plenty of games remain, but Bill Snyder has the program humming well thus far.