Showdown time for the University of Louisville football program against Florida State. Decades in the making, a chance to knock off the No. 2 team in America at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
The next game is always the most important, regardless of the foe. One must admit, however, that Florida State looms much larger than most.
Take it from someone who has been following UofL athletics for well past six decades: Sitting behind the post at Fairgrounds Stadium for years, dreaming of opportunities like this, actually seeing it come to fruition. One of those seminal moments that keeps long-time fans awake at night and gets them out of bed early on game day. A nationally televised game, a record crowd, a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, lining up against a perennial power with a 23-game winning streak.
A pivotal event straight ahead, staring UofL partisans in the face, beckoning, challenging and teasing them, the UofL football program arriving at a crucial fork in the road. The coaches and players confronted with one their greatest challenges ever, motivating them, daring them to scale the heights. But knowing that adrenalin is no substitute for consistency and execution against a program with a solid football reputation and a long winning tradition.
The time for a young quarterback and an improving offensive line to reach inside, determine how they want to be remembered, and advance to the next level. A chance for the wide receivers to prove they are the best in America (they haven’t yet). The stiffest test thus far for a defensive unit that has made it possible for UofL fans to envision a victory over a Florida State, needing to stop 6-foot-4, 230-pound Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, proving he’s human, preventing him from making UofL just another victim in a long line of many. Punish him for transgressions on and off the field.
Whether this is the biggest game in UofL history is debatable. It would be hard to top wins in the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The next game is always the most important, regardless of the foe. One must admit, however, that Florida State looms much larger than most, definitely the biggest regular season game in several years.
UofL has already arrived at the next level, but it’s only the beginning. Time to take the next step and move on. Win this one and there will be even bigger games ahead.
Florida State should be No. 1 when it arrives in Louisville this Thursday — the defending national champion, undefeated this season, and having won 23 straight games — but the pollsters have outsmarted themselves again.
Why Mississippi State is on top of the polls is a mystery, even more so after struggling against Kentucky last week. Mississippi State was woefully lacking on defense, with nothing resembling a credible pass rush, allowing the UK offense to rack up 504 yards, including 401 yards passing.
Four wins over SEC teams, two over CUSA teams, one over a Sun Belt team and a narrow win over Kentucky are not persuasive.
The sentiment for Mississippi State was largely generated by a 34-19 win over LSU, giving the Bulldogs a 4-0 record after wins over Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama. It intensified after the Bulldogs defeated three-loss Texas A&M 48-31 and one-loss Auburn 38-23. The lesson here is that wins over SEC teams count more than wins over non-SEC teams.
Florida State, meanwhile, continues to pile up victories, including a win over Clemson while Heisman quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended. The Seminoles made a persuasive argument for moving back to the top spot last week with a 31-27 win against previously-unbeaten and seventh-ranked Notre Dame.
The pollsters, however, failed to grasp the significance of the No. 2 team defeating the No. 7 team and their No. 1 pick escaping against an unranked Kentucky team. These same voters had flipped Florida State and Mississippi State three weeks early, holding a 56-41 win over NC State against Florida State.
One inescapable conclusion is that the pollsters also are holding some of Florida State’s off-the-field issues against the Seminoles. Another is that Mississippi State is living on borrowed time, with games still to come at Alabama and Mississippi.
Despite what the pollsters say, one could reasonably conclude that Florida State has a legitimate claim to being the No. 1 college football team. Florida State has three games remaining after the Thursday night game — against Miami, Boston College and Florida. If they were to wind up undefeated, the Seminoles would deserve to be top-seeded in the national championship playoffs.
While the mindless minions who vote in the polls have deprived UofL fans the opportunity to line up against the No. 1 team, there is little doubt in these parts that Florida State is deserving of the top spot. BCS bowls aside, Thursday night’s game is the most important in the program’s history.
Note from the University of Louisville:
A large Future Farmers of America convention event at the Kentucky Exposition Center, racing at Churchill Downs and normal evening traffic on Thursday will add to the congestion in the vicinity of the stadium. The reserved parking lots surrounding the stadium will open at 2:30 p.m. for tailgaters attending the matchup with the nation’s second-ranked team.
Regular traffic patterns for game days will not change. Drivers should cooperate with the police directing traffic. U of L students who regularly park at the stadium on weekdays will be parking at an alternate location on Thursday.
While Halloween falls on Friday evening and fans may wish to be festive, costumes may be worn to the game but masks will not be permitted.
The weather forecast for Thursday is 61 degrees, winds out of the southwest at five miles per hour. Perfect setting for another historic meeting between the Louisville and Florida State football teams. The kind of game that brings out the best in Bobby Petrino.
Games between UofL and FSU were at one time a once-in-a-decade event like in 2002 when the Cardinals shocked the college football world with a 26-20 win over the Seminoles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville was filler material on the FSU schedule, having lost the previous 12 games to FSU by a total of 394 points since 1952, UofL failing to score in five of those games.
Visions of a field covered with of thousands of jubilant rain-soaked fans clad in bright, reflecting yellow, red and white ponchos linger from that game. There’s also a flashback of the apprehension of getting banged in the head by the goal posts being carted around the field. One of those gladdening, exhilarating and gut-busting experiences one will never forget.
UofL football would be forever changed by that win, awakening fans as to what could be possible with a serious commitment to college football.
The rest of the 2002 season was a blur, Louisville losing to Kentucky in the opener, finishing with a 38-15 loss to Marshall University in the GMAC Bowl in Detroit, and compiling a 7-6 won-lost record. But there was that Florida State win, what it inspired in the minds of the UofL faithful.
Bobby Petrino wasn’t around that night. He had served one season as John L’s offensive coordinator in 1998 and moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL. He would arrive at UofL two seasons later, compiling a 41-9 record in three seasons and delivering BCS Orange Bowl hardware in 2007, furthering the dream of UofL fans. What nobody could have anticipated was the nightmarish three years of the Steve Kragthorpe era.
What Petrino proved during his first tenure here was that the dreams that surfaced after the Florida State win weren’t misplaced, that UofL could compete on a national level. Despite his success here, Petrino wasn’t ready to take the next step, not committed to Louisville, taking his aspirations and wandering eyes elsewhere, first to Atlanta and on to Arkansas where he and a companion on a motorbike would careen into a ditch, banished for a year before winding up at Western Kentucky University.
Seeking forgiveness and a second chance, Petrino would contact Tom Jurich at least a year before Charlie Strong left Louisville, Petrino asking Jurich to help him get his life back in order. There were reports when Tennessee was pursuing Strong in 2012 that Petrino would be the choice if Strong left. Negotiations between the two parties fell through Strong returned for another season at UofL.
When Strong did leave the following year, Petrino was the first and last choice for Jurich. UofL fans enthusiastically welcoming Petrino back. Big difference this time around, with Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having a chance to compete for a national championship. Petrino repentant, overjoyed at a second chance, saying he wanted to compete for the national title at UofL, this time with conviction, knowing he has a way to get there.
The fans and Bobby Petrino are on the same page now. Thursday night’s game could be a mile marker to the ultimate destination. Down the road a bit maybe, but an integral part of the itinerary.
So fun to watch, the standard by which UofL fans compare all college defenses this season, a group largely responsible for Louisville’s 6-2 won-lost record and a healthy dose of optimism as UofL prepares to meet No. 2 Florida State on Thursday.
One kept expecting MSU, the nation’s No. 1 team, to provide some evidence of an effective defense but the Bulldogs just weren’t capable, disapppointing time after time. Defensive stopping ability just wasn’t there, allowing UK to stick around, providing an opportunity for a major upset.
The Bulldog defense was a sieve, allowing UK quarterback Patrick Towles a total of 390 yards through the air. Towles would rush for 76 of Kentucky’s 103 yards on the ground.
Few quarterbacks are going to have those kind of numbers against Louisville, which is No. 1 nationally in total defense. U of L ranks fifth nationally in tackles for loss with 60, second in sacks with 28, and first in interceptions with 15.
As UofL prepares for the next four games — Florida State, Boston College, Notre Dame and Kentucky — the defense is eager to improve on those numbers. The bigger the challenge, the more motivated this defensive unit becomes and the more likely it is to impose its will on the competition, keeping Louisville in contention to win every game.
The University of Louisville football team has an open date Saturday. A good day to check out Lamar Jackson who has committed to play for UofL next season.
Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound senior quarterback at Boynton Beach High School near Orlando, ran for five touchdowns and passed for two others in leading his team to a 63-58 win over Coconut Creek Friday night. He ran three yards with six seconds left to give his team the win. Boynton Beach is 9-0 this season under his leadership.
Not a polished video by any means. They finally fix the camera at the 33 minute mark. You can’t miss Jackson, he’s No. 7, the tallest player on the field, calling signals for the team in the white jerseys. He runs 50 yards for a TD on the first play of the game.