Louisville's most recent tail-spin began with an unexpected, 28-21, loss at lowly Syracuse two weeks ago. The situation grew more dire in a 41-7 meltdown at Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Now the Cardinals find themselves in 7th place in the Big East standings (tied with USF) with an uninspiring 1-3 league mark. At 5-4 overall and with their bowl hopes in serious doubt, Louisville faces another big challenge this Friday night when league leading Cincinnati comes to town.
"Our mood is we're excited to get back on the practice field today," Kragthorpe said. "We know we've got an excellent team coming in here in Cincinnati. The good thing is we get to play a day earlier on Friday night."
Referencing the off-field problems that were the defining topic during last season's 6-6 finish and the Cardinals current two-game losing streak, one of the Cincinnati reporters asked Kragthorpe during Monday's Big East coaches teleconferene if his program is getting to where he wants it to be late in his second season at UofL?
"We're getting closer to where we want to be but certainly we've got to win more football games," Kragthorpe said. "It's my job as head football coach to win more games and that's my goal. We're not looking behind us we're looking ahead of us and trying to improve every day. There's no doubt that we want to win games and we've got to win games."
If Louisville harbors hopes of a late season winning streak, Kragthorpe will have to figure out a way to eliminate his team's costly turnovers and penalties – miscues that have plagued the Cardinals all season long.
"Obviously we did not play good football in the last two games and that's what we talked about yesterday as a team," Kragthorpe said. "We've got to get back to playing good football and when you play good football you give yourself an opportunity to win. And when you don't play good football in all three phases, which I don't feel like we've done the last two weeks, then you're not going to win as many games as you want to."
Against Pittsburgh, Louisville sealed its own fate with five turnovers, including an interception and fumble that were returned for touchdowns by the Panthers in the second half.
"We felt like we made a lot of self-inflicted errors," Kragthorpe said. "Certainly give Pitt credit but we had chances to seize the momentum in the game and had a problem with turnovers. We can't do that. We've got to take good care of the football particularly when you're playing on the road."
Turnovers have been the tell-tale sign for Kragthorpe's team this season. When Louisville has won the turnover battle they've won games. When they lose that battle, like they did against Kentucky, UConn, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, they‘ve lost. In Big East play, especially, the Cardinals have no margin for error.
"It's been a big deal," said Kragthorpe. "When we've played well we've taken good care of the football, run the ball well and thrown the play-action shots well. And we've created turnovers with our defense and special teams and on defense we've knocked down the run and been vertically sound against the pass. Really that's been our formula for success."
"We've got to get back to playing good, sound, solid football and stop beating ourselves," Kragthorpe said.
He'd also like to see his offense become a lot more productive. The Cardinals scored just seven points against Pittsburgh, totaling only 299 yards of offense against the Panthers stingy defense.
"Number one we've got to be more consistent running the football," Kragthorpe said. "When we're in those down and distance situations on third down we can't commit penalties. We had a couple of fourth down situations the other day – one we didn't pick up when we had a pre-snap penalty and we felt like we had the perfect play called for the defense they were in.
"We've got to be more consistent on the offensive side of the ball. We've got to be able to drive the football and make some big plays that we have failed to make when they are available."
Cincinnati, 7-2 overall, is tied with West Virginia and Pittsburgh atop the Big East league standings with a 3-1 record. The Bearcats are coming off a big OT win over West Virginia last Saturday and hope to end a five-game losing streak against the Cardinals.
"Cincinnati is playing extremely well right now," Kragthorpe said. "They're right at top of the Big East race.
"I'm confident in this team right now," Kragthorpe added. "We're a team that's going to continue to fight and battle. We've got to find a way to win a football game this week."
With Hunter Cantwell struggling, redshirt freshman Matt Simms saw extensive action against Pittsburgh Saturday. Simms threw his first career pass in the loss at Pittsburgh, completed just 4 of 10 passes for 39 yards and an interception.
"Hunter's our guy and we were just trying to make something happen and give Matt a couple of series," Kragthorpe said. "It wasn't a pre-planned thing that we were going to do putting Matt in at this point in time or we were going to give him this many snaps. It was a decision we made on the sideline to go ahead and take Hunter out and let him settle down and put Matt in for a couple series and see how he would do."
Kragthorpe didn't say if Simms would see action against Cincinnati Friday night.
"It just depends on the complexion of the game," Kragthorpe said. "I can't say one way or another."