I am filling in for Mitch on the postgame recap, so let’s talk about the weird Friday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Duke and head coach David Cutcliffe had an outstanding gameplan. It may have been more conservative and less flashy than what Louisville fans are accustomed to, but it nevertheless worked. Louisville did an excellent job of bottling Duke’s basic gameplan for most of the game, though. Most will point to the lack of turnovers or sacks that Louisville has been able to produce as of late, but Duke’s gameplan of runs and screens — and trying to milk the clock and keep Lamar Jackson off the field — was to limit that.
Other than T.J. Rahming’s early screen that flipped the field for Duke and tied the game, Louisville didn’t allow the big play or lose their assignments down the field. It’ll be interesting to see if other teams will employ the same clock strategy that Duke did, but I wouldn’t expect other teams to run the same basic plays as the Blue Devils did on Friday.
Grantham’s defense did enough to give Lamar Jackson opportunities, and Louisville did move the ball. However, the Cardinals struggled with costly mistakes resulting in crippled drives and a lack of touchdowns. Lamar did have another solid night rushing with 144 yards, and Jeremy Smith busted a long touchdown in the third to energize the crowd. But as mentioned, the penalties and missed passes ended up crippling many drives for Louisville. An illegal block in the back also kept Jaire Alexander from his second punt return touchdown this season, which added to the frustrations from last night.
Ironically, it would be a roughing the kicker penalty against Duke that helped seal Louisville’s 500th win in school history. Lamar would later score to secure the 24-14 win for Louisville, in what was a bizarre, closer than you expected type of game. The crowd was a lot less fired up than expected, but I think that was from failing the expectation to cover the 34.5 point spread. But let’s give Duke some credit, they came to play and made the most of their opportunity against a top ten opponent.
And on the same token, it would be insane to think one game like this can halter Louisville’s chances of a playoff bid. Every national title contender always has one game that seems to either (A) be an outlier for the rest of the season, or (B) a game where they play beyond their limitations. Maybe Louisville has already had both with the Duke and Florida State games, respectively. But one thing does matter, and that’s the Cardinals campaign for a CFP bid continues.