The Louisville-Miami game ended about 2 days ago at the time I am typing this. So too much time has passed to write about that game, right? Time to move on to the next game? Nah, not just yet. A game of this magnitude can be celebrated and talked about just a little bit longer than normal games. I started going to UofL football games as early in my life that I can remember, and the games were played on astroturf on a baseball field, not too far from horse manure. Big names like Texas and Penn State came in to play, but still, Louisville was far from a big-time program.
The Cards moved into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium beginning in the 1998 season. It was definitely a new era of Cardinal football. At the time, we were a program that was nothing more than decent, and in Conference USA. Fast forward to Monday night, and you have seen the Cards in the Big East and the American Athletic Conference. But Monday night, you saw the Cards take on the Miami Hurricanes as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Not just members, but a program that is ready to compete right away.
I remember when you could go to a gas station and get free tickets for UofL football games. I remember the smell of the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center as you are walking into old Cardinal Stadium. I remember watching Ron Cooper lead us to a 1-10 season. I think it is quite alright to let Monday’s huge game/moment last just a little bit longer than usual.
So after watching the game from my new seats in section 224, and finally watching it on DVR to catch anything I may have missed, there are some things that surprised me and some things that didn’t surprise me. I will attempt to outline them now…
What surprised me
*Defense – I knew the athletes were there. That isn’t an issue; the entire team is loaded with athletes. But changing into a whole new scheme was what I was concerned with. You can only do so much in practice, but how will you perform under the lights when it matters? Well, the defense certainly came to play, and I would say that they saved the game for the Cards. With two crucial turnovers inside their own 20, the defense held the Hurricanes to only 3 points from those two possessions. All night you kept hearing the names Mauldin, Mount, Rankins, and Burgess. Two big surprises were also James Sample and Gerod Holliman. Those two should have put a lot of fans’ minds at ease about the secondary without Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith.
*Not a stable of running backs – Without Michael Dyer, I knew the Cards would still be just fine at running back. I just expected L.J. Scott, Corvin Lamb, and maybe even Brandon Radcliff to see more action carrying the ball. Scott had 3 carries for 2 yards. Lamb and Radcliff did not have a carry. This was the Dominique Brown show, as he rushed 33 times for 143 yards. I think Petrino just put all of his faith in the senior and basically said “OK, there is no Michael Dyer. It’s all you tonight.” And Brown certainly rose to the challenge, taking a lot of pressure off of Will Gardner. Brown proved he can be an every down back. But we know after taking a lot of hits throughout the season, having other guys step in and get a few carries will help Brown. I certainly expect the other guys to get more carries this Saturday.
*Will Gardner – I wouldn’t really say I was surprised as much as I was impressed with the play of Gardner. Immediately following the game, all that I could really think about were the two fumbles. Not just that he fumbled, but that it seemed like he just held the ball for Miami to knock out of his hands. Plus that is just how I am. Even in a win, I will remember the negative plays. I guess that is just the coach in me. After watching the game again, Gardner made some great throws. His stats would have been even better, if not for a couple of drops. But those will happen. It was still good to see him step into his throws with such confidence. He hit Eli Rogers down the sideline in the first half on a great pass between two defenders. Nearing the end of the half, he hit James Quick on a perfect pass over the middle. Football is the ultimate team sport. Gardner made two big mistakes, and the defense picked him up. There may be games this year where the defense gives up a lot of points and Gardner has to pick them up and try to score 45. I have nothing but confidence in our quarterback.
What didn’t surprise me
*Atmosphere – I knew the place would be packed before kickoff. That is not what Cards fans are known for. But when it is a big game at night, and a theme such as a blackout, the fans will usually step it up. The place was electric before the game, as the team ran out, when the game started, and really it lasted throughout the game. I was happy with that. I am always very critical of our football fanbase. I lived in Auburn for 4 years; I have experienced the biggest stage of college football. I know we still have a very long way to go. This was a good showing by our fans. The next step is showing up for the games that aren’t one of the biggest of the season. The game that isn’t on ESPN or against a big-named opponent. That’s right, the bigger programs show up for the games against Murray State. I definitely don’t expect it to be anywhere close to Monday’s atmosphere, don’t get me wrong. But the crowd needs to be there and be loud. No excuse not to. Even if it is full for just kickoff and the first half, that would be improvement from the past. We will see if this was just a 1 week thing, or if the fan base has made progress.
*Lorenzo Mauldin – I did say that the defense surprised me. As a unit, that is true. However, I am not surprised by the play of Lorenzo Mauldin. I feel like if Todd Grantham wanted to try him at safety, he would succeed. That is the kind of drive that he has. I don’t need to be proven right on this one; please keep Mauldin as a linebacker/defensive end. The guy just has a motor that makes him so fun to watch. If the rest of the country didn’t know who he was before, they most certainly did after Monday night’s game.
*The outcome – Call it overconfidence, but I never once gave a thought to Louisville losing that game. All summer long, I usually just wondered how much we would win by, not really giving Miami a chance to come in and beat us. Bobby Petrino just doesn’t lose season openers, and you know this one meant more than any other he has coached. There would be no losing to Miami to start his second stint as the Louisville head coach. By the way, he is now 23-1 at home as the head coach of the Cards. Not too shabby. The one loss was in 2003 to Memphis, 37-7. There is no way to explain that one, it just happened. 23-1 is still quite impressive!
It was an amazing day, night, moment, and I am very happy that I was there for it. I just hope everyone else takes the time to realize how fun and special this is. Don’t get so caught up in the actual game on the field, take the time to enjoy how fun it is to be a fan of the Cards!
As always, Go Cards! Go Krogering!