After their 26-0 win over Connecticut, the Cards are now even in Big East conference play at 1-1. Before looking at the upcoming games, let’s look back at Saturday’s win. Obviously, a shutout victory over a conference opponent is always a great thing.
There were naturally many positives, but also some negatives that need to be corrected before the Cards face league leading Pittsburgh.
On the positive side, you have to like the defensive performance. Yes, UConn was starting a redshirt freshman quarterback who had never played any meaningful snaps at the collegiate level, but the Cards did what they needed to do: they made sure Jordan Todman, the Huskies’ heralded running back, did not beat them. Todman was leading the Big East in rushing heading into the game, but the UofL defense kept him in check and once it was obvious the running game would not be there, UConn could not move the ball through the air. Good gameplan, better execution by the D.
Another thing I was happy to see was the special teams play. Doug Beaumont found the endzone for the second time this year and kicker Chris Philpott, who took absolutely way too much heat for missing two field goals against the ‘Nati, converted on all four of his tries. Dougie actually took two punts to the house, but his first one was called back due to a holding call, which upon watching the game later, was questionable. For the Cards to win down the stretch, particularly on the road, the special teams will have to produce big plays.
Chris Philpott was critical to the win Saturday. Clearly, going 4-4 on field goal attempts when the offense could not finish drives with touchdowns was important. If the Cards do not get any points on those drives, the outcome of the game could have been much different. However, Philpott also made a couple tackles on long kickoff returns by Connecticut to preserve not only field position, but the UofL lead.
The final thing that really stood out to me was again, the play of Bilal Powell. He did not have his best game stats wise, but he still rushed for over 100 yards and more importantly, surpassed the 1,000 yard mark for the season (in only seven games). Charlie Strong said in his postgame presser he felt Bilal is the best running back in the country and quite frankly, as biased as I am, there’s a great case to be made for that. Right now, I honestly feel Bilal is the favorite for Big East Player of the Year, but for him to get that, the Cards need to finish in the top half of the league.
Now, on the negative side, the amount of penalties in the first half were ridiculous. The Cards committed 7 infractions for a total of 70 yards in the first 30 minutes of action. If they do that again against Pitt next Saturday, especially since the Panthers appear to be getting it together, the Cards will be in for a long game. Fortunately, Charlie Strong and his staff made the proper adjustments at half and the Cardinals finished the game with same 7 penalties for 70 yards they had going into halftime.
Offensively, the Cards moved the ball well at times, but just could not finish drives with touchdowns. It’s critical they get seven, rather than three. Also, the Louisville offense continued a curious trend of pretty much collapsing as an offense if they sustain a penalty, typically on the defense’s side of the field. They will drive the ball into the opposing team’s territory, things look sharp, then a false start, or holding penalty, and the drive stalls. The offense must fight through those situations and keep the drive alive.
Looking ahead, I think we can say, with some level of certainty, Louisville will be competitive in every game. After reviewing what we’ve seen from the Cards through seven games, the goal of getting to a bowl game is now in sight. After Pitt this Saturday, Louisville will travel to Syracuse, then come home for back to games with West Virginia and South Florida, before finishing up the season at Rutgers (keep choppin’).
If we rank the most likely wins coming down the stretch, I still believe Syracuse and Rutgers (keep choppin’) are the best chances for victories. Even though Syracuse is improved, they do not have good quarterback play, which is something this UofL team struggles with. Rutgers (keep choppin’) is not improved and also have quarterback issues, as does the entire Big East conference in general, but that’s a separate point I will be looking at later this week.
Assuming the ‘Cuse and Rutgers (keep choppin’) are the best opportunities for Ws, Pitt, WVU, and South Florida can be beaten as well. West Virginia looks strait inept at times, South Florida is hot and cold, and Pitt has Dave Wannstedt as head coach, which means they will never be as good as they should, so those games are in play. However, the caveat with those teams is they also have the most talent of the remaining teams on the UofL schedule. If they happen to put it together on a given day, they will be tough to beat.
However, all that is a ways away. The Cards are 4-3, 1-1 in conference, and have a chance to vault themselves into first place by beating Pitt this Saturday. It will be a tough road environment, but after seeing this UofL team through seven games, they will be ready for the challenge.