UofL offense struggles to find consistency

Steve Kragthorpe took the reins as offensive coordinator this season intent on putting the 'O' back into the Louisville offense. But after an ugly outing in a 30-14 loss to Utah, the Cardinals offense has a lot of work to do before their Big East opener against Pittsburgh Friday night at PJCS.

Steve Kragthorpe has his work cut out this week trying to fix the Louisville offense before Pittsburgh comes to town for the Cardinals Big East opener Friday night.

Kragthorpe, who assumed control of the Louisville offense from Jeff Brohm after last season, has a wide array of problem areas – and a shortened game week - to ponder solutions. Against Indiana State, 14 penalties and poor execution on third down (1 of 9) slowed the Cardinals offensive attack. Against Kentucky, the Louisville offense moved the ball from 20 to 20 but was rendered impotent in the red zone. In Saturday's 30-14 loss to Utah, it was, well, a little bit of everything.

How bad was Louisville's offense against the Utes? Consider the Cardinals first eight drives of the ball game: Blocked field goal, fumble, punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt. If you're scoring at home, that's one special team's breakdown, three turnovers and four punts. More importantly, Louisville offensive ineffectiveness kept them off the scoreboard for better than two quarters and put the Cardinals in a three touchdown hole against the Utes at halftime.

"We did some good things early in the game," Kragthorpe said. "We took the opening drive down to the eight yard line and had a first and goal. We need to first of all get the touchdown in that situation and then if we don't get the touchdown get the field goal but we got it blocked and got behind."

Louisville's final six possessions against the Utes weren't much better. The Cardinals finally got on the scoreboard with 7:49 left in the third quarter. But that score was more the result of safety Chaz Thompson's interception return to the Utah 29 than it was offensive excellence.

After their first touchdown, the Cards finished the game with three more punts, a turnover on downs and Cameron Graham's 16 yard touchdown reception that ricocheted off wide receiver Scott Long and into the tight end's hands.

Louisville's offense struggled against Utah.
The problems for UofL's offense were numerous in Salt Lake City against Utah.

Turnovers, a big problem for the Cardinals last season, reared their ugly head again against Utah. Louisville also couldn't run the ball against the Utes, gaining only 80 yards on the ground, including just 21 yards after halftime. And Louisville struggled on third down for the second time in three games this season, converting just 4 of 13 opportunities.

"We've got to be more consistent running the football," Kragthorpe said. "We weren't as consistent as we needed to be in that phase of the game. There were points in time where we got five or six yards a chunk but once we got down 20-0 we had to abandon the run."

Perhaps Louisville's biggest concern coming out of the Utah game was the play of it's offensive line – a unit that failed to open holes for the Cards running backs or provide adequate protection for quarterback Justin Burke. Louisville averaged just 2.3 yards per carry against a Utah defense that allowed 200 or more yards in two of their first three games this season. Burke was also sacked six times in the game and completed only 45 percent of his 33 passes. In all, the Cardinals offense was able to muster just 261 yards total offense, the UofL's lowest output since a 27-2 loss to Kentucky to open the 2008 season.

"We've got to continue to finish blocks in the running game and we've got to be a little firmer in our pass protection," Kragthorpe said.

Another troubling sign for the Louisville offense: An inability to score early in the game. Louisville's offense has now stalled out of the gates in its past two outings. After scoring 17 first half points against Indiana State in the season opener, Louisville has scored just seven points in the first half of its past two games – combined. The Cardinals trailed Kentucky 17-7 at halftime and Utah 20-0. That's simply not a recipe for success, evidenced by losses to both the Wildcats and Utes.

Once one of the nation's most potent offenses, UofL finds itself slipping in two key offensive statistical categories heading into league play. After their poor showing against Utah, Louisville slid down in the national rankings 32 spots in total offense, ranking 78th nationally this week, and 34 spots in scoring offense - 86th in the nation.

It probably won't get any easier this Friday against a Pittsburgh defense that excels in several areas that the Cardinals have struggled this season. The Panthers have been stingy allowing points, though they gave up 38 to NC State in their last game, ranking ninth nationally in red zone defense. They're also effective getting after quarterbacks, averaging four sacks per game, which ranks fourth nationally. The Panthers have recorded 16 sacks in four games this season.

"They're very good pass rushers," Kragthorpe said. "They're long and they can really rush the passer."

In last year's game, a 41-7 Pitt victory, the Panthers completely dominated Louisville's offense, holding the Cardinals to just 299 yards total offense while forcing five turnovers.

"It'll be good to get back home," Kragthorpe said. "We've played two road games in tough environments. We know Pitt's going to be a great opponent and they're playing extremely well right now. We know we've got our work cut out for us."

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