Well, here we are, 3 games into the Year of Expectations and Petrino's squad has yet to produce a complete outing that resembled the message of aggressiveness depicted by the shark shirt. Even in the Cardinals home-opening rout of Oregon State, they appeared to be a team waiting for something to happen instead of attacking from the get-go.
Despite having the table set perfectly, the previously 8th-ranked Cardinals have opened their first season in the revamped BIG EAST Conference in ho-hum fashion. The preseason goals for this team included a season-opening win over in-state rival Kentucky, a conference crown, a BCS bowl appearance, an undefeated season and a national championship. For the first time in the history of the school - at least on paper - U of L appeared to have a serious opportunity to accomplish each goal set. Sure, they'd need help and they were receiving it. Only a few weeks into the season and a number of the nation's best team's have already taken a loss and two-time defending BCS champion USC has appeared somewhat beatable.
Following the debacle that was South Florida's 45-14 thrashing this past weekend over the 23-point favored Cardinals has changed things quite a bit for this team. Beating Kentucky was accomplished, but be honest, who cares at this point? A national championship? Forget about it - not this year. The undefeated season is out the window. However, playing in - and winning - the program's first Bowl Championship Series game is still very much attainable, as is another season-ending top ten finish.
"Watching the video, we certainly didn't play well enough to win," said Petrino during Monday's press conference of the South Florida loss. "That's the bottom line."
However, while it's hard to find a positive in such an outing, Petrino said that it sent a message throughout the program.
"It's certainly going to wake everybody up and make sure that we understand that you just don't go and win," said Petrino. "When you win a game like we did against Oregon State and the emotion that we played with and the way that we prepared for that game - you know as a coach that you can't get that emotional for every single game during the season, but you can be focused and do things where you don't beat yourself."
What has been more difficult to swallow is that this year's squad has made multiple on-the-field mistakes that have allowed the opponent to grab the momentum.
"This is the first time that I thought we actually did things to beat ourselves," he continued. "Penalties and turnovers. It was something each drive that stopped us from scoring points. That should not happen to us."
However, while the team is still feeling the sting of the loss, Petrino has talked with his players about still being able to achieve the majority of their preseason goals.
"It's a long season," he said. "There's a lot of things that are going to happen. We'll have to get some help from someone else in the Big East, but I think it's going to be very competitive."
Sounds great, but can this team get there? There's no question that it has the talent, but it lacks the swagger and leadership that last year's team had. I'm sure that Stefan LeFors, Kerry Rhodes, Marcus Jones, Will Rabatin and the rest of the seniors from a year ago were disappointed by the outcome in Tampa. This team needs some of the leadership, drive and determination that LeFors and company had in '04. While having one of last year's group visit and motivate this year's squad would make for a great story, what this team needs more is for one it's own to stand up and take control.
"What we need to do is get back and really focus on taking care of ourselves and getting better," Petrino said. "Each guy playing their role and doing it to the best of their ability."
Even if a new surge of leadership develops, the road to the Big East crown has become much more difficult, especially considering that the visit to undefeated West Virginia is looking tougher each week. This weekend's homecoming opponent, Florida Atlantic, appears to be the last 'gimme' game of the year and even then the Cardinals have to win convincingly. To rebuild its national image, No.22 Louisville must take the field on Saturday with more focus and energy, win easily and then do the same when North Carolina visits October 8.
"To be a strong football team you have to recover from games like this," said senior receiver Joshua Tinch shortly after the Cardinals 45-14 loss.
To recover, leadership and focus must emerge, and should that be the case, a BCS bowl is still very much likely in the picture for the 2005 season.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Petrino. "It's something that we certainly learn from. We'll get back to work, compete and get ready for this game on Saturday."
Louisville will host former Cardinal head coach Howard Schnellenberger and his Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday at noon.