Cards take wrong turn at Syracuse

Just when you thought Louisville might have taken a turn in the right direction under Steve Kragthorpe here came Syracuse - again.

A week after knocking off nationally-ranked South Florida (a team, it must be pointed out, that has now lost three conference games in four attempts), Louisville hit the road and laid an egg against lowly Syracuse. If UofL took a turn in the right direction last week against the Bulls, they made an abrupt u-turn Saturday night in upstate New York.

Yes, we're talking about a Syracuse team that's lone win in seven tries this season came against Northeastern.

It's also the same Syracuse team that is coached by Greg Robinson – a man who had won just 8 games in 42 tries as the Orange coach before Saturday night's improbable 28-21 win over the Cardinals. Robinson is now 3-22 in the Big East. The bad news for Kragthorpe: Two of those three Big East wins have come against his Louisville team.

Last season, the Orange walked out of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with a 38-35 win over a Louisville team that was favored by 34 points and featured five (5) NFL Draft picks on offense. Saturday, the Orange looked like the better coached team, outgaining UofL by 34 yards, while committing five fewer penalties and one less turnover.

"Obviously we didn't make plays and that is on me as head coach," Kragthorpe said. "We had a great start, and then we sputtered. We wanted to start fast and we did, but we didn't finish."

Coming into the game Syracuse was the team that couldn't ‘finish.' After finding away to win on the road against Memphis, overcoming an early 14 point deficit against Middle Tennessee and coming from behind to win in the fourth quarter against South Florida, Louisville never really threatened the Orange down the stretch.

Keep in mind this was an Orange team that had scored a combined 19 points in its two previous outings. Saturday night, Syracuse put 21 points on the scoreboard with more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter. They added a fourth quarter score to make it 28-14 before Louisville made a last ditch TD drive in the contests final minutes.

What Syracuse did was punish Louisville on the ground for 206 rushing yards. The Cardinals defense simply couldn't stop Curtis Brinkley. The Syracuse running back shredded Louisville's usually stout run defense for 165 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. No, it wasn't the ghost of Jim Brown breaking tackles in the Carrier Dome Saturday night – it just looked like it.

Louisville's offense also continued to struggle. The problem for the Cardinals with injured wide receiver Scott Long out of the lineup is that freshman running back Victor Anderson is the team's only dangerous playmaker. That has made the Cardinals more or less one dimensional on offense – and worse, predictable. Anderson rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown – his fifth 100 yard game this season.

Anderson didn't get much help, though. Louisville's passing attack failed to stretch the field against Syracuse. There were too many penalties that put the offense in difficult down and distance situations. Bilal Powell's fumble and Hunter Cantwell's interception in the final seconds didn't help the cause. And Troy Pascley's dropped pass would have shifted momentum to Louisville in the second half.

But here is the most troubling aspect of Louisville's setback against the Orange: Syracuse controlled the game at winning time. The problem with that is the Orange have typically found a way to lose in the second half. For the season, Syracuse has been dominated in the fourth quarter by their opponents. That wasn't the case against Louisville. Ahead 28-21 with 3:55 left, Syracuse did enough on the ground to effectively run out the clock on the Cardinals. Simply put, when UofL needed a big stop late they couldn't get it.

It's also troubling to hear what senior defensive tackle Earl Heyman had to say after the loss. "We can't take a play off against any team, and I think we relaxed a bit after the first three and out," Heyman said. "We can't underestimate opponents. Perhaps we were on a bit of an adrenaline high from last week against South Florida."

With the Big East seemingly wide-open, it's difficult to understand why the Cardinals would "relax" or "underestimate" any opponent with so much at stake. If Louisville harbored hopes of chasing down West Virginia in the race for the Big East championship and a BCS berth they almost certainly died against Syracuse.

Now Louisville must re-group for another road game next week at Pittsburgh. The Panthers beat Notre Dame on Saturday and look like a formidable opponent for the Cardinals. Even with their Big East title hopes dashed Louisville still has a lot more than pride to play for. At 5-3 and with four games remaining on the table, the Cardinals still can win enough games to earn a solid bowl bid and finish with momentum heading into the offseason.

It won't be easy.

Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Cincinnati - Louisville's next three opponents – are a combined 18-6 this season and look like the three best teams in the Big East. Even Rutgers looks like a much tougher opponent than they did just two weeks ago. The Cardinals definitely have their work cut out for them.

Can Kragthorpe and the Cardinals turn things around again? They'll have a big opportunity next Saturday against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

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