By Beau Kilpatrick—
The No. 5 Louisville Cardinals had their playoff hopes destroyed by the Houston Cougars Thursday night. Louisville possesses the best offense in the nation that regularly put up nearly 50 points per game. However, they were absolutely crushed by the electrifying play of the Cougars.
The opening kickoff foreshadowed the fall of the Cardinals. Malik Williams fumbled the opening kick when he ran into his own player, which gave Houston the ball deep in their own red zone. Houston took advantage of this turnover by scoring the first touchdown of the night only 11 seconds into the game.
Ball security for the Cardinals continued to be a serious issue. They lost six total fumbles in this game and the Cougars were quick to convert turnovers into points.
The game quickly got out of hand when Louisville found themselves scoreless at the half and down by 31 points. Houston’s defense brought pressure from every position on the field. The blitz packages confused Louisville’s offensive line, allowing Houston to get to Lamar Jackson four times by halftime. Jackson was sacked a total of 11 times during the onslaught for negative 69 yards.
Coach Bobby Petrino gave credit to the fantastic defense of Houston at halftime.
“They’re just doing a good job of bringing pressure and were not doing a good job protecting… We keep making mistakes. So, we need to stop making mistakes and having penalties and be able to block their pressure,” said Petrino.
The second half began with Louisville looking hopeful. Cole Hikutini caught a fourth-down touchdown pass and the Cardinals were gaining momentum. The defense forced Houston into three straight 3-and-outs, which put the ball back in the hands of the Heisman frontrunner. However, those hands proved to be human after all, when Jackson fumbled the ball deep in the red zone on what was sure to be another Cardinal touchdown. That play sealed the hopes of Louisville having any chance to make it to the college football playoffs.
Houston’s defense was spectacular but U of L’s offensive line is supposed to provide the protection for the best offensive unit in the land and they got beat in every way possible. They could not offer protection for Jackson to set up any type of play. Jackson only completed 20 of 43 passes for 211 yards, with a single touchdown. Usually when the passing game is not working, Jackson will get the job done with his legs. Not this time. He ran 25 times for a shocking 33 yards. This is not the Lamar Jackson that leads the country in multiple categories.
The team was plagued by penalties—their Achilles Heel—this week as well. The Cards tallied up 15 penalties for negative 114 yards. When you add this to the 69 yards given up by sacks, the Cardinals gave away 183 yards.
It is safe to say that Louisville will not be competing in the college football playoffs for the national title. They are still one of the best teams in the nation and will be competing in a monumental bowl game.
Petrino will need to take advantage of the long week ahead to regroup his team for the Governor’s Cup rivalry game against the University of Kentucky. The in-state rivalry is an emotional game for both teams, where rank and record do not really matter.
Louisville will be hosting the Kentucky Wildcats (5-5) at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, Nov. 26. The kickoff time and broadcast information are still to be determined.
Louisville will need to beat UK to finish strong and raise their stock to attend a premier New Year’s Six bowl game. Kentucky will need one more win to become eligible. They should get their sixth win against Austin Peay this weekend; but if not, they will be fighting the Cardinals for bowl eligibility.