The first match-up between Charlie Strong and Joker Phillips went Joker’s way and the Cats retain the Governor’s Cup for another year. For a UofL fan, it’s frustrating to see the Cats take home their fourth strait victory in the series, but I did see many positive signs from the Cards that make the future seem brighter than originally expected.
The biggest thing I took away from this game was the fight this Louisville team showed. After getting strait punched in their mouth to start the game by allowing Kentucky to do whatever they wanted in the 1st quarter, the Cards could have easily folded. The previous three seasons, the Cards very well may have, but Charlie Strong and co. are now in charge and they did not allow their team to lay down.
After spotting the Cats a 13-0 lead in the 1st quarter, there was definitely a feeling in the stadium this game would get very ugly. However, the Cards manned up and decided to fight back. Starting about mid-way through the 2nd quarter and continuing through the rest of the game, the Cards’ defense started to get more consistent pressure on Mike Hartline and improved their tackling.
It was very much refreshing to see a Louisville team come out for the 2nd half not only with adjustments being made, but a team that came out trying to win the game. Far too often the past few seasons, if the Cards were losing at halftime, particularly by more than a field goal or touchdown, they did not appear to come out of the break looking to get back in the game. Yesterday, Charlie Strong’s team did.
Another thing that impressed me on Saturday was the organization and discipline of the team. We all know the many times in the past where Louisville would get the play in very late, or the countless amount of incidents of false starts, or my personal favorite, having to waste a timeout after a television timeout because they did not have the right personnel on the field, AFTER ALREADY WAITING THROUGH A T.V. TIMEOUT!!! In total, the Cards committed only four penalties for a total of 30 yards, an extremely positive sign.
And speaking of positive signs, Bilal Powell was the star of the game for Louisville. The senior rushed for 154 yards on 16 carries and scored the Cards’ only touchdown. Bilal regained the speed and agility he displayed as a freshman, but lost due to playing overweight. Charlie Strong predicted some time back Bilal Powell will be the “face of Louisville football” and if Bilal continues to perform like he did against the Cats, then that prediction will most definitely come through. Also, if you watch Charlie Strong’s press conference below, look at his face and listen to his tone when he talks about Bilal. It tells you a lot as to how much he thinks of Bilal.
Despite all the positives, ultimately, the Cards lost the game. On the negative side, I thought the playcalling was at best, odd. Let me first say, this is based on a single game and there were several dropped passes that killed momentum, so the forthcoming criticism is only in regards to Saturday’s game. Having said that, I don’t think offensive coordinator Mike Sanford called a good game.
I saw too many similar looking plays out of smiliar sets, including two instances when the Cards ran nearly an identical play back to back. We don’t know this for sure and while the coaches will probably deny it, which I expect they would, but I believe the injury to Josh Bellamy affected the playcalling. Bellamy is the Cards’ best receiver and I think any playcaller would have his gameplan altered after losing his top playmaker at that position.
Another thing that I was not impressed with was the play of the Louisville corners. Not necessarily in covering the receivers, but in terms of playing the ball in the air. There were three occurrences in which a Cardinal corner misplayed a ball in the air. Johnny Patrick mistimed his jump on one, which led to a UK completion. Bobby Burns had two plays that were frustrating.
On the first one, Burns allowed himself to get the ball taken away from him on a jump ball thrown by Hartline. Then, Burns actually has great coverage and is in fantastic position to pick off the pass, but instead chooses to knock the ball down, rather than go for the pick. The first play was a physical mistake, which can be tolerated, but the second was mental. If Burns makes the interception, the Cards would have had the ball inside their own ten yard line, which is not great field position, but they would have had the ball. Ultimately, it was not a game changing mistake, but it could be in the future.
At the end of the day, it was a loss. At the same time, it was a loss with several genuine positives to build on. Does this change my overall outlook for this team? Not yet, it was only a single performance. Our next chance to find out will not come this weekend. The Cards face Eastern Kentucky and should be a blowout. We’ll have more on that game this week.