Jackson fumble leads to another Louisville stumble

Was it just a couple of weeks ago that the University of Louisville football team was considered a serious contender for the 2016 college football playoffs? Reality took a while to catch up, shattering any and all illusions or disillusions.  

Kirk Herbstreit, of ESPN, had UofL listed third in his rankings back then, saying on air that he believed the Cardinals were capable of beating top-ranked Alabama. There were lots of people who agreed with him, including those who made Louisville third in the Associated Press poll.

Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Quarterback Lamar Jackson, like his University of Louisville football team, is looking all too fallible these days. Either he’s not as good as was once considered or most teams have figured out how to slow him down considerably.

Two weeks ago, Jackson was considered a virtual shew-in for Heisman Trophy honors, the “lock of all locks,” considered by Las Vegas to be a 1-50 favorite for college football’s most coveted award.  He was at that point considered all but invincible.

The outlook changed dramatically when Louisville fell victim to Houston in a devastating 36-10 loss, exposing all of UofL’s weaknesses, knocking the Cardinals out of any serious discussion about the nation’s best football teams this season.

Jackson a mere shadow of his national perception in the loss, managing to make only 20 of 43 passes while rushing for only 33 yards. His team would register only one touchdown while Jackson was getting sacked 11 times.

Just when one couldn’t imagine things getting any worse, things did get worse on Saturday. Louisville was knocked off by arch-rival Kentucky 41-38 before a crowd of 54,075 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

When he wasn’t scorching UK’s defense, Jackson was keeping the Wildcats in the game. He would have three costly interceptions and would cough up the ball in the final minute that would lead to the winning field goal.

UofL’s slumping performance in recent weeks, along with Jackson’s problems, may have an impact on the Heisman race. The national sports media, being what it is, thrives on creating drama when none may actually exist.

The Heisman Trophy is generally associated with winners and national contenders, with an individual player usually receiving a lot of credit for his team’s success. Louisville is free fall now, no longer in contention, plummeting in the polls. 

Jackson has not done himself any favors in the past two games, making many Heisman voters scratch their heads, looking for possible reasons to reconsider their votes.

Louisville football should know better against Kentucky

Las Vegas figured out several weeks ago that this University of Louisville football team is not quite what it appeared to be when the Cardinals tore Florida State a new one in that 63-20 runaway in the third game of the season.

Probably dawned on the oddsmakers in the first half of the game against Clemson, with UofL falling behind 28-10. Eleven penalties for 104 yards for the Cardinals in that game, along with five sacks, an interception and a couple of fumbles. 

Vegas continued to make UofL a decisive favorite in ensuing games, making the Cardinals a 30-point favorite over Duke. Louisville was saved by a missed field goal in that game, making it painstakingly obvious that UofL was lucky to eke out a 10-point win. Similar grinders followed against Virginia and Wake Forest.

Bobby Petrino eyeing sixth straight for UofL over Kentucky (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Bobby Petrino eyeing sixth straight for UofL over Kentucky (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So excuse us if we wonder about the acumen of the same Las Vegas oddsmakers in making Louisville a 24.5-point favorite over Kentucky this weekend. At this point in the season, it is insane to give UofL that much of an edge, especially after the humiliating loss to Houston exposed more weaknesses.

This particular group of UofL players has already proven they will relax, taking lightly-regarded opponents for granted when considered overwhelming favorites. They hear their fans lifting them up, putting down their opponents. Not to worry.

That’s usually followed by mistakes coming out of the gate, turnovers and false starts, guaranteeing the Cardinals will struggle to survive. In fact, that’s been the pattern with opponents this season, but over the past two seasons in games against UK.

This year the Wildcats bring two 1,000-yard rushers to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, along with a mobile quarterback, and a couple of decent receivers. Equally important they hate Louisville and will be highly motivated, seeking to end a five-game losing streak.

Louisville has not seen running backs this season as powerful as Boom Williams and Benny Snell. Williams is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and Snell is right on his heels with 6 yards per carry. Jo Jo Kemp, a third running back, is averaging 5 yards per carry.

Have no doubt that UK will come armed a keep-Lamar Jackson-off-the-field game plan. All the bluster about how weak the Kentucky defense will be exposed as just that if Jackson gets off to another slow start. It would, in fact, be UofL’s worst nightmare.

Las Vegas should know no better by now.  UofL players and fans should know not to take Vegas seriously by now.

Louisville loses ground, blows rare opportunity at Houston

So much to play for for the University of Louisville football team. Such a blown opportunity.

A fumble on the opening kickoff setting the tone, however. Downhill from there for UofL in a long drawn-out 36-10 loss to Houston. A feeble, listless and humiliating performance at the worst possible time for the nation’s third-ranked team.

Bobby Petrino holding himself accountable for ugly loss.
Bobby Petrino holding himself accountable for ugly loss.

The loss not only knocking Louisville out of contention for the college playoffs this year but probably a chance for a top five pre-season rating for next year. A setback on so many levels for a program that was on the cusp of making history.

Maybe the players believed all they had to do was show up. That’s about all they did, looking unprepared and uninspired. Unnerved by the opening fumble, stalled by a series of false starts and three-and-outs, and intimidated by a raucous Houston crowd of 42, 822. Falling behind 31-0 at the half, chasing their tails in the second half.

An endless trail of deplorables:

— Quarterback Lamar Jackson sacked 10 times.

— Jackson completed only 20 of 43 passes.

— The offensive line had 11 false starts for 55 penalty yards.

— Jackson, Brandon Radcliff and Malik Williams with costly fumbles.

Jackson’s timing appeared to be off all night, probably due to the fact that he was running for his life most of the time. When he did have receivers open, the ball was bouncing off their chests, sailing over their heads or bouncing between their ankles.

Somewhat reminiscent of some recent games not getting off to good starts, sending Jackson into hurry-up mode and resulting in some unpredictable and panicky actions. Little doubt that opposing coaches are figuring out how to handle Jackson and Radcliff. They’ve also identified UofL’s offensive line as a major weakness, making it easier to control a predictable offense. 

The only good thing about this game was that UofL did not incur any significant physical injuries. Offset perhaps by some emotional scars.

“We got beat by their offense, we got beat by their defense, and we got beat by their special teams,” said Coach Bobby Petrino. “That was a bad job of coaching on my part. I didn’t do a good job of getting our team ready to play. The out-played us, they out-performed us, and they out-coached us.”

One more regular season game remaining, against a team that will be highly motivated against UofL. The Cardinals have won the last two games against the University of Kentucky but gotten off to terrible starts against the Wildcats. They had better come to play next Saturday.

UofL football needed to prove itself to playoff committee

Almost all of the experts had the University of Louisville football team ranked among college football’s top four teams this week. Almost all of them is except for members of the College Football Playoff Committee which put UofL in the fifth spot.

The Associated Press and the Coaches Poll both had the Cardinals at No. 3 in the national polls, as did Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN who has indicated he believes Louisville is the only team with the talent capable of knocking off Alabama for the national championship.

Bobby Petrino has a former boss on the College Football Playoff Committee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Bobby Petrino has a former boss on the College Football Playoff Committee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The fact that it took a room full of committee members to keep the Cardinals out of the top four probably says more about the shortcomings of the committee process than it does about the quality of Louisville football.

The College Football Playoff Committee voting results contradicting the independent opinions of writers, broadcasters and coaches who follow the sport religiously. All too often committee decisions are nothing more than mediocre compromises between conflicting viewpoints of the participants.

In this case, there appears to be a bias toward the traditional powers, specifically in the Big 10 Conference. The selection process would be much more credible with more transparency, making the votes of the committee members available to the public. 

It would be interesting, for example, to know the votes of  Dan Radakovich, the athletic director at Clemson, or Jeff Long, the athletic director who fired UofL Coach Bobby Petrino when he was at Arkansas. Doubtful Jeff Long would ever give Petrino the benefit of the doubt, especially at a competing school in another conference.

The lack of recognition shouldn’t come as any surprise to University of Louisville football fans who have had to battle stereotypes constantly over the decades. This while gaining respect by moving to stronger conference affiliations, finally making it to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.

But the UofL football team didn’t exactly help its case with the  committee by turning in mediocre games against teams like Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest. All of the illegal motion penalties and a dreadful first half in the six-point loss to Clemson did not help either. Nor is it helpful with some teams appearing to be slowing Lamar Jackson down considerably.

Despite the shortcomings, the fact that the University of Louisville football team is fifth, right on the edge getting in the playoffs for the national championship is a giant step forward for the school, the athletic department and the UofL football program. 

UofL is paying its dues, earning respect, playing with the big boys now. No one expected immediate acceptance for the process to be easy.

The Cardinals are right there, ready to compete, incredibly close to realizing a once seemingly impossible dream. The stereotypes and the biases of the committee, even the committee process, won’t matter if UofL keeps winning and the traditional powers falter. 

This may or may not be the year that happens. But Louisville will have achieved tons of respect when CFP committee members convene in the future. UofL will be a familiar face instead of the new guy next time around.

Louisville football gaining on Alabama and Ohio State

The odds of University of Louisville football winning the national championship are the third best among college football teams in the country, coming in at 14-1 in the latest Bovada listings from Las Vegas.

playoffAlabama is at the top of list with 1-1 odds, followed by Ohio State with 19-4 odds. Clemson is fourth at 15-2, Michigan fifth at 5-1. Other contenders include Wisconsin (25-1), Oklahoma (40-1), Washington (9-1), West Virginia (50-1) and Penn State (66-1).

Ohio State and Louisville also moved up the Associated Press college football poll after the most surprising Saturday of the season gave the rankings a major shakeup, with three of the top four teams (Michigan, Clemson and Washington) losing games to unranked teams.

Alabama was a unanimous No. 1 for the first time this season, receiving all 61 votes. Ohio State is No. 2, a season best for the Buckeyes, and Louisville is No. 3, matching its best ranking ever.

Michigan’s chances may have taken a big hit with the news that quarterback has a broken collarbone and is listed as doubtful for the next two games. “It’s going to depend on how he feels,” said Coach Jim Harbaugh.

Louisville has two games remaining on the schedule, facing Houston Thursday evening in a game televised by ESPN. The finale is against arch-rival Kentucky the following Saturday.  Lots of tension-packed suspense remaining in the college football season; take some of the pressure off at the Crystal Palace’s sponsor: casino.com site.