Too much talk all week long about that 35-point spread, and from people who should know better. Just a matter of how much and how long Lamar Jackson would stay in the game.

Players hear that kind of talk from analysts and fans, they absorb it, believe it, don’t put in as much effort in practice.  Come game time they’ve already chalked the game up as a win, easing up on the intensity, lacking respect for the opponent.

Friday night crowd of 55,121 hung around until to the end.
Friday night crowd of 55,121 hung around until to the end.

The ambivalence probably cost the Cardinals in terms of respect in front of a national TV audience on ESPN. No style points whatsoever in the speculation race for one of the four playoff spots at season’s end.

The game was still on the line at the two minute mark in the fourth quarter with the University of Louisville clinging to a 17-14 lead, with visions of a possible collapse hanging over the crowd of 55,121 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Had Duke not committed a roughing-the-kicker penalty following an ugly Evan O’Hara 46-yard field goal attempt, the outcome could have much different, especially given the way the Blue Devils were moving the ball. The penalty gave Louisville the ball on the Duke 14 and Lamar Jackson would scored a two-yard touchdown two plays later to give UofL a 24-14 win.

Employing a brilliant ball control game, Duke had the ball for 37:12 minutes, almost double time of possession for UofL. As a result, Lamar Jackson almost had to make every play count. Not even close, probably remembered in this one for the passes he didn’t complete to wide open receivers.

Still he would put up some impressive numbers, connecting on 13 of 26 attempts for 181 yards, including a touchdown while rushing for 144 yards, and that game-clinching TD.

Jeremy Smith would give Louisville some breathing room for a while in the third quarter with his 80-yard touchdown. But Duke would reduce the deficit to three points in the fourth quarter, setting up the suspenseful final two minutes.

Another win but the luster is not quite as shiny as it was when the Las Vegas oddsmakers were sizing up Louisville’s prospects for the playoffs just a few days ago.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.