Thursday night at 8:00 Louisville kicks off at N.C. State in a Top 25 matchup.
Thursday night. Road game. Top 25 opponent. Bobby Petrino. Rutgers 2006. Houston 2016.
If you’re a Louisville football fan, you have reason to be nervous about this huge game for both programs. This is a game that I think establishes the outlook for the rest of the season for either program. The winners ceiling is raised. The losers ceiling gets lower.
Louisville opens as four-point favorite. There’s reason for that. Dave Doeren’s defense has yet to touch Lamar Jackson in two tries. In 2015, Lamar Jackson led 0-3 Louisville to a 20-13 win in Raleigh over a 3-0 Wolfpack. The game wasn’t even that close. In 2016, Louisville led 44-0 at halftime and won 54-13 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
So what’s different this time around? Is it N.C. State’s vaunted defensive front? Is it the improved play of their offense? Maybe a little.
Louisville is the biggest difference. Since the Cards and Wolfpack last met, Louisville has been exposed. The offensive line was non-existent the last month of 2016. The secondary has shown toilet paper soft coverage. Lamar has been forced to throw to beat teams. Turnovers and penalties refuse to be corrected.
I think this is Louisville football (of the Jacksonian Era) absolute last chance to keep their ceiling among the elites in college football. While the Clemson loss appears to have shushed playoff talk, I believe a New Year’s Six Bowl isn’t out of the question.
Louisville is 3-1 and ranked 17th. But since Louisville last beat N.C. State, the Cards best win has been narrow victory over (improved) Purdue. A win at N.C. State has Louisville back in talks of going 11-1 and earning a NY6 bowl appearance. The program gets its mojo back. Lamar Jackson is back on Heisman lists and Bobby Petrino is back in the list of top ten coaches. A win here is a positive sign for Peter Sirmon’s defense going forward. Winning makes us all forget about the Houston loss. A win here gives an embattled fan base something to be excited about and serious talk of winning down in Tallahassee.
A loss here forecasts an 8-4 season with projected losses to Florida State and Kentucky. A loss here projects Louisville for the Pinstripe Bowl against a blah opponent and has us wondering if Bobby Petrino has gotten old on us. A loss here has us fans thinking that the high point of Bobby 2.0 has already passed. Was this era of Louisville football really just “Lamar Jackson and a bunch of dudes”?
Jaire Alexander is said to be returning. Ditto for Drew Bailey. Louisville’s had two weeks to develop some depth against Kent State and Murray State. Lamar Jackson has a running mate now with Malik Williams.
Louisville’s end of season destination is still a mystery but after Thursday night we’ll know which road the program in its current state is on. Here’s hoping Lamar Jackson, Bobby Petrino, Jaire Alexander, and Peter Sirmon choose the right path at that fork in the middle of Tobacco Road.