All the Trophies Are Gone...
In a Thursday night matchup that was supposed to showcase the two best quarterbacks in Conference USA, offensive blunders and a pair of strong defenses were the story as Cincinnati took back the annual Keg of Nails trophy in a 24-14 victory. The game was televised nationally on ESPN, the third game they’ve been showcased in ESPN’s College Game Night package.
In a somber postseason locker room, as head coach John L. Smith found it difficult to convey anything other than the usual hackneyed coach catch phrases, he did manage to put into words a thought every U of L fan was privy to after the loss.
“All we can do now is say goodbye to the conference title,” said Smith. “We looked like a very poor coached football team, and that all starts right here.”
Offensive ineptitude was one of the major contributing factors in the Cardinals second loss in three games. Dave Ragone and the passing attack only managed 106 yards through the air, and the 91 yards Ragone contributed was the lowest output of his career. Ragone also lost two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and he was quick to place the blame squarely on his shoulders.
“There’s no excuses for my turnovers,” said Ragone. “The offense just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
While Ragone and the Cardinals (5-4, 3-2) were wallowing in their post-game sorrows, Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter was glad to be able to celebrate a victory after a number of close losses this season.
“We feel very good about having come down here and getting the back,” said Minter. “I asked my guys, ‘How many of you have seen this keg we’re talking about?’ Hardly anybody had seen it. We had a much needed win tonight.”
Cincinnati, however, was guilty of many of the things that seemed to plague Louisville. Gino Guidugli, last season’s C-USA Freshman of the Year, did not complete a pass until the second quarter, and he only completed three passes for three yards.
But Guidugli came back strong in the third quarter. He hit on four of five passes for 90 yards, and engineered a drive that tied the score at 14 late in the third. Then early in the fourth quarter, a 36-yard completion to Jonathan Olinger set up Demarcus McClesky’s second one-yard touchdown run of the day, which put Cincy up 21-14.
With more than 13 minutes remaining in the contest, but with the offense ground to a standstill, it was merely a formality of three-and-out possessions for the Cards until the Bearcats put the finishing touches on a 24-14 victory.
It’s become cliché to point out the mistakes and penalties that U of L has racked up, but 11 penalties, two turnovers, and only 2-14 third down conversions are too blatant to not point out.
The hopes for a third consecutive conference title for the Cards have all but vanished, and for seniors like Devon Thomas, the disappointment of losing many of the trophies they’ve earned over the past four seasons is hard to comprehend.
“All the trophies from last year- the Governor’s Cup, the Keg of Nails, the Liberty Bowl trophy and the Conference USA trophy- are gone,” said Thomas. “We’re playing for pride now.”