Big East woes a problem for Kragthorpe

Having dropped eight straight Big East contests, Steve Kragthorpe hopes a non-conference game against Arkansas State Saturday at PJCS will help Louisville end their current two-game losing streak.

There's been no official word about Steve Kragthorpe's future at Louisville – the virtual pink elephant of Cardinal football.

Given UofL officials' silence on the matter – this despite a whirlwind of rumors about potential new coaches - it's widely assumed that Kragthorpe won't be on the sideline next season.

Though change appears a foregone conclusion, five games still remain on the 2009 schedule. It's been ugly on the field so far this season, particularly in Big East play and there hasn't been much for Cardinal fans to cheer or be excited about. It seems like a 'lame-duck' season from the start. It's what many expected after watching the team significantly underachieve in Kragthorpe's first season and implode in 2008.

After a blowout loss to Cincinnati Saturday - the program's eighth straight Big East loss – it's clear that the current program led by Steve Kragthorpe is broken beyond repair. What has become blatantly evident is the Cardinals are no longer a factor in the league they won the year before Kragthorpe's arrival from Tulsa. In fact, the Cardinals aren't even competitive any more.

Here's a telling fact about a program that went to nine straight bowl games from 1998-2006 and won four conference championships during that time span: Despite beating Louisville by 31 points with their backup quarterback, Cincinnati actually saw their BCS ranking fall three slots this week, hurt by the Cardinals relative strength, or lack thereof these days.

Steve Kragthorpe is 4-13 vs. Big East foes at UofL. Three of those four wins came in his first season.
Things have gone completely sideways for Kragthorpe's program.

In three league games to date, the Cardinals have been beaten resoundingly by Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Cincinnati. The combined scores of those three contests: 114-45. In each of those three losses, UofL was completely dominated in the second half. The Cardinals were blanked 28-0 after halftime by Pitt, were doubled up 24-12 by UConn and dusted 20-3 by UC, who emptied the bench after three quarters. All together, the Cards have been out-scored 72-15 after the break in their first three Big East games, which directly reflects upon Louisville's lack of depth and effective halftime adjustments.

Incidentally, Bobby Petrino, the man Kragthorpe replaced, was a combined 8-0 against Pittsburgh, UConn and Cincinnati during his four years at UofL.

This week, the Cardinals step outside the conference to host Arkansas State, surely a welcome relief from league play.

In reality, this week's game represents Louisville's best chance for a win in its final five games this season. After this Saturday's game, the Cardinals finish the season against West Virginia, Syracuse, South Florida and Rutgers. Louisville went just 1-3 against that lineup last season with the lone win coming at home against the Bulls. It should be noted, the Cardinals have never beaten South Florida in Tampa and Kragthorpe is 0-2 against WVU and Syracuse.

Arkansas State comes to town with a 2-4 record, including a 27-10 win over Florida International last week. The Red Wolves lost to Nebraska and Iowa earlier this season, nearly pulling off an upset against the Hawkeyes before losing 24-21. It might not be a write-in win for the Cardinals, who are dealing with injuries at several key positions.

With one poor performance after another, the deck continues to stack against Kragthorpe this season. Problems that have needed fixing for three seasons simply aren't getting fixed. Turnovers have plagued Louisville during Kragthorpe's tenure – Louisville is 1-14 under the coach when they turn the ball over more than their opponent – and the Cardinals currently rank 96th in the nation in turnover margin. In three Big East games this season, Louisville has committed seven turnovers while forcing just two.

Touted as an 'offensive guru' when he came from Tulsa, Kragthorpe has struggled to maintain Louisville's accustomed excellence on that side of the football. The Louisville coach removed coordinator Charlie Stubbs after the 2007 season and gave Jeff Brohm a pink slip last season both for sub-par results. This season, Kragthorpe's offense has plummeted in the national offensive rankings. Since taking over as offensive coordinator, Louisville's points per game, rushing yards and total offense are all lower this year than they were under either Stubbs or Brohm.

After seven games, Louisville ranks 105th nationally in scoring offense, posting just 20.14 points per game. The Cardinals also rank 71st in the nation in total offense and 69th in rushing offense. Louisville's best offensive ranking? Passing offense, which checks in at 52nd in the nation. That's off-set by their pass efficiency rating, which ranks 80th nationally. The Cardinals are also ranked 106th nationally in sacks allowed.

Red zone problems, turnovers, inconsistent rushing attack and too many sacks. That about sums up the UofL offense this season.

The numbers aren't any better defensively. Louisville ranks last in the Big East in nearly every major defensive statistical category. The Cardinals rank last in the league in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks and tackles for loss.

In three Big East games, Louisville has allowed 38 points per contest. Pittsburgh, UConn and Cincinnati all gained more than 400 total yards against the Cardinals. Louisville is allowing 451 yards in league games and can't get off the field on third down, a testament to poor defensive line and secondary play. The Cardinals rank 85th in the country in third down defense.

What do the poor numbers mean?

In short, they explain why Louisville is suffering through their worst season since Ron Cooper's final 1-10 campaign in 1997. Though technically still bowl eligible, the Cardinals have no shot of going to a bowl game for a third straight season under Kragthorpe. The last coach that happened to was Cooper, who failed to guide UofL to a bowl during his three seasons. He was fired following the '97 season and Louisville moved into PJCS the following year.

This season is eerily similar to that one. On the field, Louisville continues to make the same mistakes week after week, fan discontent is extremely wide-spread, attendance hasn't been sparkling and an expanded stadium with thousands more seats to sell awaits. With injuries steadily mounting, it's hard to envision a late season turnaround, especially considering how the team folded in '08, dropping their final five Big East games.

The losses are piling up for Kragthorpe. Though he was 29-22 in four seasons at Tulsa, Kragthorpe is just 13-18 overall at Louisville. The Cardinals have lost their last eight Big East games and 10 of their last 12 games overall. With 13,000 more seats to sell in an expanded PJCS next season the writing appears on wall for Kragthorpe at UofL.

It might not happen today, or tomorrow, or next week. But before long, everyone in town will be talking about Louisville football's pink elephant.

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