When Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich re-hired Bobby Petrino to be the football program’s head coach in 2014, the thought of his name being uttered in the same breath as a failed former coach like Steve Kragthorpe seemed beyond rational thought, but…well, here we are.
The Cards’ completion of their season collapse at home on senior day vs. 26-point underdog Kentucky 41-38 was certainly Kragthorpe-ian in nature. After a promising 2-minute opening drive that gave Louisville a 7-0 lead was soon followed by the picture of Louisville football fans had been used to seeing since the loss at Clemson.
From Kentucky’s first touchdown, which occurred on the first play of their first drive on a deep ball over the top of a badly burnt Dee Smith, it became clear the Cards were in for a fight if they didn’t shape up. They didn’t.
Instead, they showed the same lack of discipline, lack of focus, and lack of resiliency they’ve shown since October 1st at Clemson. It was the same type of unfocused and soft style of football that Kragthorpe’s team displayed on a weekly basis for three straight years.
Very few people saw Louisville losing to Kentucky. After all, the Cards have dominated the Cats for five straight years, and with the clear Heisman Trophy frontrunner at the helm, even if they were at their worst, they surely wouldn’t falter against Kentucky, right? But maybe people should’ve looked closer.
Maybe the haters who had been so critical of Louisville since their flat performance vs. Duke were right. Nay, there is no maybe about it. Despite their disrespectful tone, these analysts were proven correct. The Cards 100% confirmed that the team who dominated Florida State like a lion on a sick gazelle died at the end of September.
The writing had been on the wall for nearly two months, but fans and certain members of the media had ignored all the signs.
The performance vs. Duke? It was a combination of good coaching by Duke coach David Cutcliffe along with still suffering a hangover from the Clemson loss. The bounce back domination of NC State showed it was a fluke. Then came Virginia. They needed a miracle from Lamar Jackson to beat a two-win team, but (a) it was on the road, and (b) UVA always plays Louisville tough. Overconfidence, maybe? A dominant win over Boston College answered that. But what about the first three quarters against Wake Forest? No matter, they dominated them in the fourth.
Even the embarrassing 36-10 loss at Houston seemed to get slightly overlooked leading into Kentucky. It was the ass kicking Louisville needed, some said. Now that the weight of the playoff pressure was removed, they should be able to focus, said others. As it turns out, they were nothing but excuses for a team who had apparently thrown in the towel in regards to preparation and determination.
None of Louisville’s previous underperformances were flukes. The loss to Houston wasn’t a fluke. The embarrassment vs. UK finally proved the Cards went into cruise control after September, and as good as Lamar Jackson was, his team and his coaching staff let him down.
There is a lot of hate being thrown around right now towards Jackson, whose fumble inside the opponent 10-yard line cost Louisville the win, but let’s not forget…It wasn’t him that allowed the defense to allow UK to march freely down the field after that. It wasn’t him that dropped a touchdown pass like James Quick did. And it certainly wasn’t him that opted to kick a field goal on the one-yard line instead of punching the ball in…like winners do.
Nevertheless, Jackson’s once concrete Heisman chances are now anything but. He had 452 total yards (including 171 yards on the ground) and four total TDs, but his turnovers were costly, even if two of them were not his fault. Should this loss cost him the Heisman, Petrino should offer him a public apology.
Speaking of Petrino, he has a lot to answer for. His team has lost more fumbles than any other team in FBS by a decent-sized margin. They commit more penalties than every team but five. They have become an undisciplined, unfocused team without true leadership, much like the days of Kragthorpe. It doesn’t take a genius to point out that something needs to change.
The defense was absolutely horrid against UK. There was no pressure on the QB, no decent coverage by the secondary, and plenty of missed tackles to go around. And the constant confusion among players, especially on third downs with no adjustments… For what defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is being paid, making the UK offense look like the New England Patriots is unacceptable.
The offensive line, while far better than they were vs. Houston, was facing a defensive line that allowed 257 yards on the ground to Austin Peay (who has one win since 2013). And yet, Jackson was still under pressure several times and sacked twice. The Louisville offensive line has not improved in the three years that Chris Klenakis has been leading them. This year was supposed to be different. It was for a while, and then it wasn’t.
The lack of discipline of this team on both sides of the ball is an embarrassment to FBS level football. That falls on Petrino, and if he can’t teach discipline, he needs to hire assistants who will.
His decision making has also been incredibly suspect, most notably his decision to kick a field goal at the UK two-yard line rather than punch it in. It proved to be the difference in the game. He also allowed Jackson to continuously heave the ball deep down the sideline despite the fact it wasn’t working.
After the game, Petrino was asked about his QB’s tendency to stay in the pocket too long at times. Here was Petrino’s response:
“Really? That is a bad question right there. Lamar competes his butt off. He does everything he possible can to help us win. He has had an amazing season alright. He has used all the talent that God gave him and that’s a bad job of questioning. Thank you.”
That’s admirable of Bobby to defend his player like that. It’d be even more admirable if he led his team with the same vinegar. It’d be more admirable if he could channel the anger he shows the media for asking basic questions and put it into efforts to creating a more disciplined team. But hey, you can’t get everything in life, I suppose.
Make no mistake about it, Saturday’s loss to UK was a complete and total narrative changer for Louisville.
Playoff team? HA! All those disrespectful comments by talking heads? Completely proven true. The “it’s just Lamar Jackson and a bunch of other dudes” BS? Today, that was somewhat the case.
Rick Pitino once had a practice where if his team didn’t perform as he wanted, he would remove the “Louisville” name from their practice jerseys. Perhaps the Louisville football staff should take the same approach…with themselves.
The players certainly underperformed, but they were also underprepared. That’s on the coaching staff. When a team is continuously underprepared, unfocused, and unmotivated for six out of the past eight weeks, there is something wrong. Someone is not doing their job. Someone is not doing what they’re paid big money for, and someone has made excuse after excuse week after week with very little change in attitude.
For the program’s sake, Lamar Jackson needs to win the Heisman. He still is likely the frontrunner, although now, due to the back to back losses, it may slip through his hands. Petrino and staff have already undone nearly all the hype they created following Florida State, and if Jackson loses the Heisman, the circle will be complete.
It wasn’t even two months ago when people were saying a one-loss Louisville team deserved to be in the College Football Playoff. Now? They are a national punchline. The UK loss was the boiling point, but the consistency in which Louisville played with so much apathy post-Clemson has been rather incredible.
So hopefully Bobby Petrino is happy and content with his work since returning. As a disgraced individual who once gave Louisville a very loud and public middle finger, one would think he would have a little more enthusiasm for keeping a team with national championship aspirations hungry and determined. The evidence on the field proves otherwise, and now, he can’t even beat Kentucky, the one team he has had basically no trouble with his entire career.
He owes the Louisville program, fans, and community much, much more. Florida State was nice, but never in program history has a Louisville football team fallen apart like this during the last half of a season. This season has gone from a letdown after Houston to an utter humiliation. Only he and he alone has to answer for that.