By Sam Draut–
It is only natural, after winning four games against some of the weakest teams in the ACC, that we would cross the line between reality and idealism at some point.
The harsh reality of the overriding truth struck the Louisville football team when Avonte Maddox crossed over the end zone for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 42-17 lead with 32 seconds left in the second quarter on Saturday.
Although the Cardinal defense locked down in the second half and Louisville cut the deficit to a one possession game in the fourth quarter, the hole was too deep to climb out of, and the Cardinals fell 45-34, and are now 6-5 going into their final game of the season against in-state rival Kentucky.
Louisville’s five wins against FBS competition have come against teams with a combined 20-34 overall record and 8-27 record in the ACC.
Quite frankly, Louisville beat the teams it was supposed to beat, and the Cardinals lost to any team outside of that category.
When the running game churned out two consecutive 200-yard games against Syracuse and Virginia, the belief that the vaunted coach Bobby Petrino downhill rushing attack was back.
But 24 carries for negative one yard against Pitt destroyed any such notion.
Kyle Bolin’s ability to spark the running game was thrown out the window as Pitt’s front seven dominated the line of scrimmage. After Bolin threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter to give Pitt a 42-17 lead, Petrino inserted freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson to provide a spark to a struggling offense.
Although Jackson put together a two-play 75-yard touchdown drive in the final 32 seconds before halftime and led another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the offense was stilled plagued with problems it faced earlier in the year.
When the final whistled sounded, the Pitt defense had racked up seven sacks and ten tackles for a loss.
34 points should be enough to win a game, but when a defense gets torched for 35 points and 326 yards in one half, it is an uphill climb for any offense.
“We just flat got beat,” Petrino said. “They did a great job of executing.”
“Offensively we were able to make some big plays and score fast a few times, but there wasn’t the kind of consistency you need to come back,” Petrino said.
Consistency maybe the most significant word when describing the 2015 season. Consistency is exactly what Louisville has lacked 12 weeks into the year.
Or maybe the inconsistent play is the only thing Petrino’s team can count on these days.
Despite lining up numerous freshmen on both sides of the ball, calling the Cardinals a young football team 11 games into the season is probably too much of a stretch this late in the year.
What we have yet to see in Petrino’s second stint at Louisville is marketable improvement.
Just when it appeared that the offensive line had shored up and the running game had found some regularity, the Cardinals faced a good team and all of it evaporated.
Louisville’s ten wins in the ACC over the past two seasons have come against teams with a combined 32-62 conference record.
Two consecutive five-conference-win seasons and third-place finishes in the ACC Atlantic Division is fine, but hardly significant.
Is Louisville a better team than it was when it took the field against Auburn in Atlanta, Ga. for the season opener?
Players have progressed and become more comfortable competing, but as a unit, Louisville is battling the same problems it has had since the opening week.
With the final game against in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday, it is difficult to picture Louisville instantly turning the corner and becoming the team that has yet to reach its potential.
Calling the season a disappointment is too premature with a rivalry game and impending bowl left on the slate, but facing the reality that Louisville isn’t a top tier team in the ACC or anywhere close is an undeniable truth that these first eleven games have uncovered.
Photo by Wade Morgan / The Louisville Cardinal