The atmosphere in the Louisville locker room following Thursday night’s loss to Florida State felt like a funeral.
QB Will Gardner, who threw for a career-high 330 yards and nearly outplayed his much more touted counterpart Jameis Winston, had a look of disbelief on his face as he kept reiterating the Cards had the lead and the ball with 6 minutes to go only to lose.
“I can’t even really think about my own stats right now,” he said after the game. “None of that really matters when you still take an L, so that’s all I’m really thinking about.”
Linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin was so desperate for the win, he came back into the game after re-aggravating his hamstring which he injured during the NC State game. He said he was only at about 75%, but he felt he needed to be out there.
“It’s very disappointing because we had it in our minds that we could beat these guys,” he said. “We got too relaxed as a defense. We came out hyped, they ran the ball on us a couple of times, and we stopped them on the first drive, but then you could say we had a sugar crash. When the offense scored again, we said, ‘Okay, maybe we can relax now.’”
WR DeVante Parker, who also set a career-high with 214 receiving yards, was visibly upset as he answered every question briefly and appeared in no mood to talk. S Gerod Holliman, who recorded two interceptions, was supposed to talk but never even came out.
Four players who all had more than productive games individually just could not shake off the crushing disappointment each felt after watching a 21-0 lead they had built collapse in front of their eyes. As gut-wrenching of a defeat as it was, though, there are still three games to play, and the Cards need to put it behind them.
They showed Thursday night they can stand up to the big boys in college football and are more capable of finishing the season 3-0. Save for a handful of badly broken plays, the defense played well. The offensive line played more disciplined and provided better protection to Gardner than they have all season, and Gardner himself looks vastly improved. Of course, there are then dynamic playmakers Michael Dyer and DeVante Parker, who each could have been All-Americans had they been healthy all year and may be on their way to first round draft pick status. They certainly have the chops to win out, but if they let this loss linger, they could just as easily lose each remaining game.
The three teams remaining on Louisville’s schedule are Boston College, Notre Dame, and Kentucky. Two of those teams are already bowl eligible while the other (UK) is one game away.
The Cards travel to Boston College this coming weekend, and the Eagles, behind head coach Steve Addazio, have been a more formidable opponent for teams than they have been in years past. They took down Virginia Tech last week on the road and took down a USC team that at the time was ranked in the top-10 earlier in the season. They have three losses. One was a four-point loss vs. Clemson, another was a three-point loss vs. an 8-1 Colorado State team. QB Tyler Murphy is one of the most dangerous dual-threat QBs in the country and has four 100+ yard rushing games. They are certainly not a push-over.
Notre Dame is still pining for playoff consideration. They have one loss on the season, and that loss, at Florida State, was a game they could have, and probably should have, won. With Everett Golson back under center after sitting out last season due to suspension, they have only scored under 30 points once this year, and as most Notre Dame teams do, they have among the most talented group of players in the country.
Rival Kentucky has shown this season they are not the laughter-inducing doormat they have been the past several years, and while not great, they have proven they can push teams to the brink of defeat. They gave #1 Mississippi State a game, took Florida to three overtimes, and they put up 45 points in a win over South Carolina. While those last two facts may not be as impressive as the first, they are accomplishments the UK teams of the past few season would not have come close to accomplishing.
Louisville is going to get no sympathy from any of these teams, and now begins the true test to see just how tough these Cards are. They have come a long way this season and have improved more and more each week. All three teams prove tough tests for Louisville, but just as they can be beat, they can just as easily take down each one.
Boston College was beat at home by a 5-loss Pitt team who was beaten by Akron. Notre Dame pushed Florida State, but they came dangerously close to defeat against the likes of Navy and North Carolina, two 5-loss teams who fields defenses incapable of covering their own shadow. UK pushed Mississippi State, but they were also blown out by LSU and were just beat fairly easily by a Missouri team who was blown out by Indiana.
All three are winnable, but for that to happen, Louisville is going to have to shake off the feeling of disappointment. They have proven they can physically challenge just about anyone in college football, but they now have to prove they are emotionally mature enough to bounce back from a tough defeat. The Cards are going to need their veterans like Mauldin to help keep them focused and hungry.
Talent-wise and coaching-wise, Louisville either matches up closely or flat-out has the advantage in the remaining games. The W-L result will all come down to attitude and resilience, and how they handle those traits will be the difference between finishing 3-0 and finishing 0-3.