Cards Outlast Blue Devils; Win 24-14
Louisville won last night's game on a penalty, and I'm really not even mad about it. After numerous questionable calls and no-calls, a roughing the kicker penalty after a missed field goal on 4th and 22 to grant an automatic first down was a blessing. Louisville would go on to seal the game when Lamar Jackson crossed the goal line for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Louisville would go on to stop Duke on the next three downs and swat away a fourth down pass to send it to the Victory Formation phase.
If you didn't get to watch this game, I promise that you did not miss much. I would call last night's game a textbook letdown game following an emotional loss. Fortunately, the Cardinals still won. Unfortunately, they did absolutely nothing to improve their national title hopes or Lamar Jackson's Heisman campaign. I had hoped that a bye week would be sufficient to get over the Clemson game, but apparently not. I am not concerned yet, but if we see a similar performance next week against NC State, a lot more questions will arise.
Let me start with the bad, so I can end with the good. Louisville's defense looked rough in the first half. After a game against Clemson where they completely lost their identity (zero tackles for loss and 8.2 yards allowed per play), it seemed like they still hadn't found it when Duke marched right down the field to tie the game up in the first quarter. Duke reminded me a lot of UCF in 2013. The game wasn't as high scoring, but Duke only ran about three plays, and the Cards couldn't seem to stop them. Fortunately, the defense buckled down for the rest of the first quarter and from then on until the end of the third. At that point, Duke built a 15 play, 75 yard touchdown drive that lasted nine minutes. It was slow, and it was boring, but it was effective. I hated it. Additionally, the Cards forced zero turnovers, which is frustrating since they were going up against a quarterback that has turned the ball over 13 times this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, things looked anemic. Louisville escaped this one in part because of the aforementioned roughing the kicker penalty and an overturned fumble inside their own 20 yard line. I'll speak more on Lamar Jackson in just a bit, but the ball seemed to hang in his hand all night, as low throw after low throw gave him a 13-26 passing mark on the night. A couple of drops contributed to that, but it was mostly errant throws. The line also allowed a lot of pressure against a Duke team without the greatest athletes in the front seven. Hopefully things get tightened up.
Now onto the good news. Louisville rushed the ball well last night. We fans have become accustomed to Lamar Jackson breaking off huge plays on the ground, so it seemed like not much was going well when LJ8 was bottled up early and often at the line or shortly after. However, the Cards managed to rush for over six yards per carry, a very good mark. Granted, that number was helped out considerably by Jeremy Smith's 80 yard touchdown run (shoutout to the heavy back with the long run), but Louisville still managed to rush effectively, and would have had more to show for it if not for an unfortunate Brandon Radcliff fumble.
The biggest positive of the game is that Louisville won. We will get a week of talking heads prattling on about how they underperformed and how that will affect the playoff chances, but an ugly win is still a win. If a few teams have struggles like that and don't manage to pull out the win, Louisville can still be very much in the hunt. You can't win every game by 50, but I'm sure Bobby is already working to figure out what went wrong in this one so that he can get back to stomping on fools.
I said I would have more on Lamar so here it is. In my opinion, Lamar Jackson is pressing. I don't think it's the Heisman hype, or that he can be contained by scheming against him. He is much too talented for that. I think he is just trying to do too much. Against Charlotte, Syracuse, and FSU, we saw Jackson effectively running a full offense. He threw the ball all over the place, the running backs kept the defense honest, and he was free to run all over everyone. Against Marshall, though, Bobby held him back and made him throw it. Also against Marshall, Lamar Jackson was spied for the first time for the entire game. I think that something got in his head against Marshall, and he has been trying to do too much alone. In the last three games, teams have schemed specifically against Lamar Jackson being the entire offense, which has worked with varying degrees of success. The only reason it's working, though, is because Lamar Jackson has played the last three weeks like he is the entire offense. I believe that if he relaxes and starts hitting his throws and handing the ball off more like he did before, he will see the field open up in front of him.
That said, Lamar Jackson scored his 30th touchdown of the season last night, and is still averaging five touchdowns per game, despite only scoring two last night. He should remain the Heisman frontrunner in my opinion, but I think we may see it be a bit further from unanimous this week due to the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality of the media. Louisville takes on NC State next week at Noon for their homecoming game. I think (hope) that we should see the team from the first three games and not the team from the last three.
Loaded Saturday Schedule for Louisville Sports
In terms of event sports, Louisville is busy today. The cross country team heads to Terre Haute for the adidas Pre-National Invitational. Women's golf will go for Day 2 of the Tar Heel Invitational. The Cards currently sit in 9th out of 18, 13 shots behind the leading Wake Forest team. Likewise, the women's swimming team will compete in the second day of the SMU Classic, which they won last year. Louisville currently sits in third, two points behind the leading Michigan squad. A strong showing in day two could secure the win.
Field sports see the Cards being a part of two top-ten showdowns. Field hockey hosts No. 3 North Carolina at 1PM, and the men's soccer team goes on the road for a big game against No. 7 Wake Forest. Louisville currently leads the ACC, and a win would go a long way toward securing a top seed in the ACC tournament.
I rejoin Paulie and Worldwide in the studio for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour today from 11-12 on 100.9 WCHQ. The show is also available online on the WCHQ app or at crescenthillradio.com (link). Tune in to hear Paulie and Worldwide be knowledgeable about women's sports or to hear me go on a rant about some obscure stat or rule. Should be a good time!
Until next time, Go Cards!