By Dalton Ray —
Football’s end to the 2016 season ended as worse as possible: Huge loss on a national stage against Houston, close loss to rival Kentucky at home and shut down by LSU in the bowl game. The hangover bled into 2017 as Louisville started the season 5-4.
The ending to 2017 is the exact the opposite. Closing the regular season on a three-game winning streak, U of L appears to have their swagger back.
The three wins might not be against world-beaters, but Louisville handled their business as they should have — something they hadn’t done all year.
In the first nine games, it appeared that Lamar Jackson was the only player to have an extra spark in his game.
A pair of loses against Boston College and Wake Forest wedged between a Florida State win made the season trajectory look brim. In the two losses, Louisville allowed 793 total yards and 87 points.
The loss against Wake put the team one game above .500 heading into November.
Fans had enough, some even calling for the firing of head coach Bobby Petrino and defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon.
The loss against Wake Forest wasn’t just a low for the fans, but for the players too.
“We realized that wasn’t us, that wasn’t our identity. We took it personal,” linebacker Johnathan Greenard said.
Since their bye week after the loss to WF, the Cardinals have been a different team.
Petrino said his team continued to grow through November because of the team’s great leadership. That combined with getting players back helped turn the year around.
“We were able to get Jaire (Alexander) back and his energy and confidence makes everyone better. Stacy (Thomas) got back out there healthy,” Petrino said. “Our defensive line stepped up their pass rush and James Hearns … couldn’t have had a better month with rushing the passer and creating turnovers.”
In their three-game winning streak, Louisville has outscored their opponents 138-48. With an average total yardage of 594 to 316 during the streak, Louisville’s running game has been the biggest difference.
Rushing totals of 298, 411 and 346 have gashed opponents. While on the other side, Louisville hasn’t allowed more than 230 yards.
The emergence of running backs has created the resurgence of the offense. Producing 541 yards and seven touchdowns during the winning streak, Louisville’s lead backs pull attention away from Jackson.
With a promising running game that doesn’t include Jackson, the Cardinals can have an effective play action game.
Atop of limiting opponents’ running game, the defense has thrived on momentum-changing plays. Louisville has eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions.
With only the bowl game remaining, Louisville is trending upwards after a rocky start to the season.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal