Kragthorpe, Cards have big problems to fix

Houston, we have a problem. More precisely, Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe has problems – big problems after Saturday's 38-35 loss to Syracuse in the Cardinals Big East opener at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Houston, we have a problem.

More precisely, Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe has problems – big problems.

The problems were numerous for Kragthorpe's Cardinals during Saturday's 38-35 loss to previously winless Syracuse. The defending Big East champions were undone in their Big East opener by poor defense, subpar special team's play, an offense that committed three turnovers and too many penalties.

Against one of the worst offensive teams in the country – statistically speaking, Louisville's defense somehow managed to make Syracuse look good. Remember, through three games, the Orange had managed only three touchdowns. But Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson carved up the Louisville secondary for 423 yards and four touchdowns that included touchdowns of 79 and 60-yards. Here's how bad it was: Syracuse's 38 points were six more than they had scored in three games this season.

Louisville wasn't much better on special teams, either, giving up a 93-yard kick return by Max Suter. While we're not sure who Max Suter is, we do know that touchdown helped Syracuse build a 21-7 halftime lead – and lots of confidence heading into the second half. Punter Corey Goetsche also had a rough day, booting punts of just 7 and 11 yards. He was replaced in the second half by Todd Flanery.

Steve Kragthorpe and the Cardinals have
some problems to solve before
traveling to NC State next weekend. (AP)
Offensively, Brian Brohm and the Louisville offense had little problem moving the ball against Syracuse; they just had trouble holding on to it. Four turnovers will do you in just about every time, even against a team that hasn't done a lot of winning the past few seasons. While Brohm threw for 555 yards and four touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions in his 65 pass attempts. The Cards also lost a fumble on their first possession of the third quarter.

And there were simply too many penalties, 11 in all for more than 100 yards. Included among those 11 penalties were three personal foul penalties – two by junior receiver Mario Urrutia, who was yanked to the bench after the second infraction by Kragthorpe. If Louisville hopes to turn their season around and compete in the tough Big East, they'll have to become more disciplined on the field and eliminate drive – and momentum – killing penalties.

But as bad as things were for Kragthorpe on the field Saturday, his biggest problems may lie off the field with a disgruntled fan base that voiced their disapproval repeatedly during Saturday's game.

For the third time in as many home games this season – Louisville fans booed their team – and new coach. That's a bad sign for Kragthorpe, who is only four games into his tenure as the Louisville coach. The booing started early Saturday – on Syracuse's first offensive play from the scrimmage that went for 79 yards and a touchdown. They continued throughout the contest and several thousand fans bolted for the exits early in the fourth quarter after Syracuse took a commanding 38-21 lead.

Harry Douglas had to be carted off the field
Saturday. (Troy Turbeville)
Kragthorpe took a lot of heat last week after the Kentucky loss on talk radio and the message boards. He'll take even more this week. In fact, hundreds of fans on the message boards, upset that Louisville's 20 game home winning streak came to a halt against lowly Syracuse, were calling for drastic coaching changes immediately after the Cardinals second straight loss. While it's too early in the season for that kind of discussion, it's not too soon to worry about where this team is headed the rest of the season.

The team's best playmaker, senior wide receiver Harry Douglas, went down late in the game with what appeared a serious leg injury. Louisville will need a healthy Douglas, who has back-to-back 200 yard receiving games, to turn things around.

The schedule won't get any easier for the Cardinals, who must travel to N.C. State next week before coming home to face Utah, a team that dominated nationally-ranked UCLA last week. And the Big East? Well, Cincinnati, West Virginia, South Florida and Rutgers are all better teams than the one that walked out of PJCS Saturday afternoon with a win. So the Cardinals road won't get any easier as the season moves forward.

Over the past four seasons, Louisville was nearly automatic coming off a loss. That didn't happen this time after losing to Kentucky last weekend. How Kragthorpe's team responded after their loss to the Wildcats is troubling, especially against Syracuse, and especially at home, where Louisville has been unbeatable since the 2003 season.

The million dollar question: Can Kragthorpe and the Cardinals turn their season around and salvage something of value after having their national and Big East title hopes dashed the past two weeks? A win next week on the road against NC State would be a positive first step.

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