Opening Drive, UofL 3-0It was obvious at the beginning of the game UofL did not think they could be effective going into the teeth of the Pittsburgh defense. So they began by trying to create space in the flats. Lots of screens, quick throws behind the line of scrimmage and the Cardinals were able to work their way down the field with 5 completions to Doug Beaumont. On 2nd and 3 from the Pitt 18 the Panthers were beginning to get wise to the Cardinals strategy and brought Beaumont down for no gain. On 3rd and 3 the Cardinals tried another bubble screen to Beaumont behind the LOS, and Greg Williams took the play away before the ball arrived. Philpott FG made game 3-0 Cards.
It was obviously a good strategy to make the decision for Froman and get him comfortable with how the game was going to play out. Sanford also mixed in Powell and Dominique Brown for a few runs to keep Pitt honest and it was effective as it led to the only score on the day for the Cardinals. However, after a 12-play 6+ minute opening drive I think everyone would expect more than a Philpott FG. There have been several LONG drives in the past 2 games where the Cardinals failed to get a TD, and this has to change. In the end, Pittsburgh was able to process what UofL was trying to do, and if you are abusing a defense in the flats behind the LOS, it is only a matter of time before they will cheat up and get back there and bust up your play. There is no pass interference behind the line of scrimmage and offenses and defenses can take advantage of that, but in this case Pitt was able to make the plays and stop the drive.
Pitt gets ball, dominates on the ground. 3-3On Pitt's opening possession it was clear that they were going to attempt to establish a ground game. On the 12-play 51-yard drive Pitt gained only one yard through the air. Dion Lewis gained 37 of his 65 yards on this possession. Unfortunately, an offside penalty on the Kickoff by Zach Meagher made UofL re-kick and instead of Pitt starting at the Pitt 19, they were able to start at the Pitt 40. I ran this back several times to see Meagher offside. I don't know how a person could call that with the naked eye.
The biggest problem the UofL defense had on this drive was getting Dion Lewis to the ground, the Cardinals could make the initial hit, but were unable to bring him to the ground. This was a problem throughout the day. If a ball carrier is gaining 3-4 extra yards after contact then it's going to be hard for a defense to get off the field. I went back and counted and Lewis made about 15 of his 37 yards on the play after contact. Props to Lewis but that is not good for the Cardinal tacklers.
Johnny Patrick played well all day, and really started out well on Sunseri's first pass attempt with a great PBU on Shanahan. Well played. Sunseri didn't hurt UofL with his arm on the opening drive, but he did with his legs with a critical 13-yard rush on a QB scramble, and is the play that makes me the most angry. Antwone Canady is literally backpedaling and covering absolutely no one, he is in no man's land and just gave so much ground to Sunseri to run. Once Canady realized his error and came to close he did not make Sunseri sorry for running the ball in the open field, he launched and missed his tackle and left the Sunseri mess for his teammates to clean up. Bad play by a senior.
Rodney Gnat batted a Sunseri pass at LOS on 1st down at the UofL 13. On 2nd down UofL was finally able to bring Lewis down and on 3rd down Roy Philon was able to get a pressure and force and short pass to get to 4th down and Dan Hutchins tied the game with a short field goal.
Cardinals 2nd possession, 4th down dilemmaUofL was got the ball back and for the second straight kickoff suffered a penalty. This time Cameron Graham was guilty of holding, moving the ball from the 32 back to the 12-yard line to start the possession. Largest gain of drive was a nice run up the middle left side of the line for about 10 yards.
On 1st and 10 from the 23, Froman targeted Andrell Smith and threw the ball short. I've been very complimentary of Andrell Smith al season but I think he mailed it in on this play. The ball was short, and it was a bad throw from Froman but I do believe Andrell Smith should have made that catch, he was open and if he makes ANY kind of effort to make an adjustment to catch the ball he probably hauls it in. Andrell is better than that.
After a 5-yard Cameron Graham catch and a 4-yard Beaumont reception, Charlie Strong had a tough decision to make as the Cardinals only needed about 8 inches for a 1st down on their own 32. I think the right decision in a tie game on the road is to punt the football and Coach Strong made that choice. It was interesting to see the punt formation of 4 gunners on the right side of the field. Bleser's punt wasn't the best but it was net 37 at the Pitt 31. Not terrible, but Chris Philpott handled the punting duties from thereafter. It was not clear why.
Panthers 2nd possession, Two 4th downs converted, phantom Pass Interference, Pitt 6-3Pitt started out the possession with a really nice play action pass for 8 yards, but UofL was able to stop Ray Graham short to force a 4th down. Really was the same decision that Coach Strong had the previous possession. The difference was that Pitt was at home with a running game they were having success early with. The 4th down was an easy conversion as Ray Graham went up the right side for 5 yards.
Pitt tried a reverse from the UofL 40 and it was shut down for only a one-yard gain. After a false start penalty, Pitt went to the air in what looked like a reception for Jon Baldwin along the sideline. The officials called him out of bounds on the play, and to me it was extremely close. There was no a definitive angle on replay, and I'm still not sure if he was in or out. Thankfully for the Cardinals the call on the field was incomplete and it remained that way. Tough call. On 3rd down Sunseri found Shanahan for 7 yards to force a 4th & 7 from the Louisville 37.
This 4th down play was very mysterious. Bobby Burns was called for Pass Interference in what has to be the weakest pass interference call of all time. Burns MIGHT have made contact with Shanahan, but if he did he didn't impede his progress towards the ball or prevent him from catching it. The ball was overthrown, Shanahan wasn't even looking, and I'm pretty sure Burns still hasn't touched him. You could see Coach Strong's disgust as he called timeout to rip an official to figure out exactly how in the world a flag could be thrown on that play to extend a drive. There is no way in the world I could keep my composure after a call like that. It wasn't even close to pass interference and to call that on 4th down is a disgrace of officiating.
An aside on officials: I don't know why the Big East constantly has the worst officials. In this game they blew calls both ways, they couldn't find the right spot for the ball, and they couldn't mark the ball ready for play in a timely manner either. I don't know how many letters the league office has to issue to member schools apologizing for officials making improper calls, but rather than wearing out the typewriter writing letters, why not start with making sure your officials are prepared and actually know the rules of football. It is embarrassing and it is not limited to the Burns pass interference.
Back to the Pitt drive: Pit took advantage of the 15-yard penalty and improved field position and settled their drive with a 42-yard field goal to take the lead 6-3. Obviously the penalty gave Pitt the opportunity to put points on the board and prevented UofL from getting the ball at the 37 with good field position.
Cardinals get ball back, offense stallsJeremy Wright took the ensuing kickoff after Blayne Donnell couldn't handle it and returned it to the 15-yard line. For the 3rd straight Kickoff the Cardinals were penalized as Marcus Smith was called for a block in the back which backed the Cardinals up to the 8.
Powell showed some burst with a 21-yard run and could have broken the run even further if Josh Chichester had found his block sooner. After a few more runs from Powell the Cardinals caught a break as DeCicco was early in coverage against Doug Beaumont. It was called Pass Interference but the proper call should have been holding as Beaumont was wrapped up before the ball was in the air. Then Greg Williams looked like he had been in the Cardinal huddle as he took off and was in the backfield in an instant. Froman needs to mix up the snap count, here is a great example of a heady player figuring out a QBs cadence and taking advantage.
On 3rd & 10 from the Cardinal 42, Froman was hurried when Tomcyzk did not pick up the stunt from the Pitt DT, and Froman did not step into his throw and was not even close to his intended target Cameron Graham. Froman needs to step confidently and make the throw. There was only one route out of 5 that was going to be enough for the 1st down. I'm ok with having a play that requires the receiver to gain yardage after the catch, especially at this point on the field and in a 3-point game. UofL punts and gives Pitt ball on 20.
Pitt has long drive, misses FGUofL's defense came out strong the first two plays and forced a 3rd and 8. But Sunseri caught Hakeem Smith cheating and found Mike Cruz just behind the young safety for the first down. The Cardinals allowed another 1st down when Dion Lewis took a swing pass 11 yards. Lewis was able to take advantage as Daniel Brown and Bobby Burns could not get off their blocks (thought Shanahan's block was a hold on Brown) and the right side was wide open until Hakeem Smith could find his way to him.
The 3rd down of the possession came on the very next play when Sunseri found Shanahan for 22 yards. Burns just got beat on a post pattern here. I'm not sure why Burns gave so much space and was a step or two behind Shanahan here, but it shouldn't happen. The next play Dion Lewis rushed for 5 yards and Brandon Heath literally watched Lewis run around him. The final first down on the drive was a fake pitch that sold Rodney Gnat and bought Sunseri enough time to find Baldwin for 8 yards and the first down. On 3rd and 8 from the 11-yard line Sunseri tried to throw into double coverage to Shanahan and Darius Ashley made a nice play to get the PBU. Pitt would settle for a FG attempt which Dan Hutchins hooked left. Big miss and good break for UofL.
Cardinals try to create some offense before halftime, 6-3 PittUofL would only get 3 plays before halftime. First Bilal Powell looked like he might be able to get a big gainer on the left side and settled for a 14 rush for 1st down. Then Adam Froman looked towards Josh Bellamy on an out route that was nowhere near target and ended incomplete. Bad bad throw by Froman. No pressure, no reason to be that off target. On the third and final play of the half UofL went 5-wide and Ryan Kessling failed to protect the QB as he allowed Jabaal Sheard to Froman with very little resistance and Sheard forced a fumble and Wetterer recovered. UofL goes into halftime trailing 6-3.
Pitt gets ball first after halftime, takes advantagePitt used a reverse again to gain 6 yards on 2nd down, Johnny Patrick made a nice open field tackle on Baldwin to make the stop. On 3rd down Sunseri found Shanahan for a first down for another 6 yards. Cards brought pressure, Hakeem Smith was too deep and allowed easy reception. After a 1-yard first down run, Johnny Patrick broke up a deep ball to Baldwin and prevented a sure TD. Great PBU. On 3rd & 9, Sunseri had a 13-yard scramble for a first down. Daniel Brown had Sunseri dead to rights for a sack and failed to make contact, Rodney Gnat also whiffed on the sure sack. Malcolm Tatum was too passive in pursuit and failed to close, gave up first down.
After a couple of short Dion Lewis rushes Sunseri found Mike Cruz in traffic for a really nice throw and catch on 3rd down. It was a pick play where Shanahan ran through Cruz's path and draws the attention of the defenders Bobby Burns brought down Brandon Heath's man in coverage. Just a great play for a first down.
Two plays later the game's only true touchdown drive was capped off when Ray Graham took advantage of a lazy Greg Scruggs tackle attempt in the backfield. Once he went through the arms of Scruggs, he just had to run past Malcolm Tatum who was inexplicably watching Graham score rather than making a tackle, Bobby Burns was trying to keep Graham contained but also forgot to make a hit, and Shenard Holton took a really bad angle on Graham and Pitt went in for the TD. Scruggs' initial miss probably caused this TD more than any other missed assignments as the Cardinals seemed to just quit playing once Scruggs looked like he had the play wrapped up. Once they realized Greg had missed the play it was too late. Pitt 13-3.
Cards start at 4-yard line, have long drive, and give up costly turnover, Pitt goes up 20-3The Cardinals started out poorly on Kickoff with their 4th penalty on a kickoff versus the Panthers (the only other penalties on the day were Bobby Burns' pass interference and a Byron Stingily false start). Jeremy Wright needed to stay in the endzone anyway, but nonetheless the Cardinals started the drive at the 4-yard line.
This is usually when Bilal Powell is the most effective. Usually the defense is worn down enough that he can take advantage and break some long gainers. By the time the 4th quarter rolls around Powell seems to be out of gas. After two rushes for a total of 13 yards, Powell's day would end as he appeared to have a knee injury.
The rest of the drive was a mixed bag. Froman keeper for 5 yards. Wildcard formation Dominique Brown twice in a row for 6 total yards and a first down. Then Blayne Donnell found running room twice for 9 yards, and then Jeremy Wright was able to get the first down. After 8 straight runs and 3 first downs UofL finally went to the air on a rollout from Froman incomplete to Andrell Smith. Froman attempted the pass on the run and did not take the time to set his feet despite not having any pressure. The next play Froman would find Jeremy Wright in the flat for a 10-yard gain and a first down.
Mike Sanford tehen elected to go with the WildCard Dominique Brown twice in a row for a total of 5 yards. Brown was an eyelash away from breaking a long run on 2nd down, and he is long overdue for getting to that 2nd level. On 3rd down Froman found a double covered Andrell Smith on a crossing route and a Pittsburgh defender made a shoestring tackle to prevent a very long gain.
The critical play on this series was on 3rd and 7 from the 34 yard line. Froman went back to pass, Greg Tomcyzk made an awful attempt at blocking Jabaal Sheard and came right into Froman's face and knocked the ball out which Pitt was able to recover to the Louisville 5-yard line. First of all, Tomcyzk has to make a better effort in pass block than that. Secondly, apparently Froman has no peripheral vision whatsoever. Froman made no attempt to cover the ball, protect himself, or anything. This was not a blindside collision. I commend Froman for keeping his eyes downfield, but you have to be conscious of the pressure and keep priority #1 (protecting the football).
From there Pitt had an easy TD set up as they only needed 5 yards to score. Pitt 20-3.
Cards get excellent field position, strange audible, missed FGJeremy Wright had a nice return to the Pitt 36 and this time the penalty was on Pittsburgh for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. I thought the personal foul penalty was suspect and didn't need to be thrown. I will take it, but it underscores Big East officiating and how bad it is. Anyway, the Cards started the drive at the Pitt 21.
On 2nd down the Cardinals benefited from yet another Pittsburgh penalty as Andrell Smith was held on his route downfield. This was a good call as the Pitt defender really got into Andrell deep into his route, this will get called as defensive holding everytime. If the Pitt defender had done this at the LOS he would have been fine.
On 3rd and goal from the Pitt 4-yard line Byron Stingily had a costly penalty with a false start which backed the Cardinal offense to the 9-yard line. Stingily has to be better than that in a key situation. Took UofL out of their play and flow and cost a nice opportunity for a TD. Then out of the penalty UofL failed to get in and out of the huddle and they were forced to use a Time Out. Out of the time out the Cardinals went 5-wide. Whatever the original call was Froman checked out of it and went with a QB draw from the 9-yard line on 3rd and goal. I don't know what he saw but the middle was covered and Froman actually lost yardage. If he checked into that play call that is inexcusable. The drive was capped off with a Chris Philpott missed 30-yard FG as it was partially blocked.
The rest of the way, Pitt trying to kill clockPitt got the ball back with a 17-point lead and over 11 minutes left on the clock. They came out very conservative with an aim continue to control the ball, but the Cardinal defense dialed up the pressure and forced a punt. The Cardinals were able to get the ball on the UofL 41.
After 3 consecutive incompletions from Froman UofL was forced to punt back to Pitt and the writing was on the ball. Here is my critique of the 3 consecutive incompletions at this critical time:
1st down-Froman overthrew a covered Josh Bellamy by about 5 yards. Bellamy had no shot at the ball.
2nd down-Froman overthrows an open Cameron Graham by about 3 yards on an out route. Graham had no shot at the ball.
3rd down-Froman overthrows an open Josh Chichester (who is 6'9") by about 10 feet on an out route.
Still even with over 10 minutes left the Cardinal defense kept fighting and was able to force another punt from Pitt to get the ball back. Once the Cardinals got the ball back they kept the ball out of Froman's hand for the first two downs with two solid rushes from Jeremy Wright. Once Sanford made the call to get Froman to put the ball back into the air, Froman continued to be inaccurate as he underthew Andrell Smith by about 7-8 yards. On 3rd and 4 Froman failed to process and Mark Wetterer's man came through and made the sack on Froman. Froman limped off.
After a 3 and out by UofL's defense Justin Burke replaced Froman and proved to throw a catchable ball on his first snap of the game. Although the reception was to a Pittsburgh defender.
SummaryThe Cardinals move to 4-4 overall and 1-2 after losing to Pittsburgh. They face a red hot Syracuse team next on the road. The Pittsburgh game was a quick, defensive game. There were not many possessions and there were only 440 total yards combined between the two teams.
Pitt was the better team. UofL has some distance to close. Still it came down to a few plays to determine the outcome. This is not a huge hill to climb.
It was interesting to see UofL's offense versus a good defense. The offense did not do their job. This loss is on them. I think it is safe to say that Froman's play was abysmal. He was 13/22 for only 82 yards, had a costly fumble in a clutch situation, and failed to lead his team when the game was still attainable. I've taken criticism of my analysis of Froman's play even when the offense was having success. Seeing Froman versus a good defense really highlights the small details, lack of fundamentals, ability to read the defense and see the field and how it can affect an offense. Against bad football teams a QB can get away with lacking these abilities. In a game versus Pittsburgh, these attributes are essential. It's all magnified. Froman was not stepping confidently, not delivering the ball, he was sailing it, placing it, throwing short. He was way off target and needs to throw the ball with confidence or else he is going to continue to be erratic.
Powell's injury hurt as he was really starting to get going and get to the part of the game where he usually makes the most difference. I don't think even the coaches know the extent of Powell's injury, but I would be surprised if he didn't play vs. Syracuse. Jeremy Wright looks good, I really like the way he runs. Victor Anderson dressed but did not play, maybe he'll be back vs. Syracuse. Powell is obviously our main guy, but it would be nice to have a full stable of backs going into the next game.
Where is Josh Bellamy? Only 3 catches in 3 Big East games after looking like the primary receiver.
I have to say that the defense played a good game overall. The secondary especially. There were certainly a few plays that were disappointing and bring the ball carrier down on the initial hit has to be a point of emphasis moving forward. But overall they held an offense in check and really only allowed 10 points. Lewis and Graham are really good backs and usually have their way, and Baldwin and Shanahan are a really difficult receiver tandem to deal with. I don't think anyone can be unhappy with the defensive effort in this game. I would like to see the Cardinal defense produce some sacks against Big East competition.
As for special teams the penalties need to stop. They really hurt field position and the absence of the Geffrad twins who are both special teams stalwarts was obvious. I'm not sure what happened or if they will be back but we have to find answers here.