In their final game of the season, and maybe the final game for coach Steve Kragthorpe, the Cardinals were clobbered by Rutgers 34-14 in front of an announced crowd of 23,422 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"I'm sorry for the seniors, sick for the seniors, because we obviously wanted to win this game for them," Kragthorpe said. "I wish we would've been more successful for them this season, wish we would've been more successful for them today."
The Scarlet Knights (8-3, 3-3 in the Big East) outgained the Cards 402-302 in total yards, including 239-48 on the ground, and outscored them 21-7 in the decisive second quarter as UofL (4-8, 1-6) finished with a losing record for the second straight season.
"Lack of execution is what it really comes down to," senior fullback Joe Tronzo said. "That's been the whole problem."
"We didn't get it done, that's the part about it that hurts," added junior quarterback Adam Froman, who completed 20 of 35 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown.
But on the biggest shopping day of the year, when people are looking for the best deals, Kragthorpe's coaching career at UofL may have been dealt a death blow. The Cards are 15-21 in Kragthorpe's three seasons at the helm of the program. He, though, hopes to be back for a fourth.
"I want to coach these guys, I want to be at Louisville," he said at his post-game press conference. "I came here to settle down, put roots in the ground. I don't want to move my family, I don't want to move from here.
"Obviously we're not where we want to be, but as I talked about in the press conference on Monday, I think we're headed in the direction we want to get back to and that's competing for a Big East championship. We're not far away and we have a lot of really good young players that gained a lot of valuable experience this year. The one thing about this team is that they continued to fight and they never gave up. I really don't think they're that far away. It's frustrating for everybody, but I do feel like we're on track. We need to get this recruiting class finished up because we have some really good players coming in. I'm hoping I get another year...I don't think we're far enough away where we need to make a change."
But for those fans in attendance ("Those are the true fans that were out there today, regardless of the weather, regardless of the record," Froman said. "That was one of the loudest crowds we had with half as many people.") it was more of the same.
UofL picked up a first down on its first possession, but that was it. Meanwhile on its first possession Rutgers picked up a touchdown.
The Scarlet Knights, who routed Louisville 63-14 in New Jersey last season, used a couple of big pass plays from quarterback Tom Savage to Tim Brown to set up Joe Martinek's 2-yard TD run with 9:12 left in the first quarter.
Then after limiting Louisville to three and out, Rutgers made it 14-0 on its second possession. Starting from their own 13 the Scarlet Knights marched 87 yards in 16 plays, making it a two-touchdown game on Savage's 3-yard run 13:06 before halftime.
The Cards could've quit then, but they didn't. They answered with a scoring drive of their own, one that covered 80 yards in 10 plays. The biggest was a 30-yard completion from Froman to junior tight end Cameron Graham. That set up Froman's 6-yard TD toss to Trent Guy 8:18 before intermission.
The Scarlet Knights, however, responded with a quick six-play, 80-yard drive. Freshman wide receiver Mohamed Sanu provided the biggest plays. First he caught a 10-yard pass from Savage, then - working out of the "Wildcat" offense - Sanu scampered 34 yards to the UofL 4. He scored two plays later to make it 21-7.
The Scarlet Knights stopped UofL on its next possession - holding the Cards on a fourth-and-2 try from their own 49 - and scored again. This time on a 32-yard TD toss from Savage to Brown.
UofL showed signs of life early in the third quarter, as the Cards took their first possession and went 82 yards in only seven plays. The biggest of those was a 66-yard pass play from Froman to Guy. That gave the Cards a first and goal at the Rutgers 2. A pass interference penalty set up a 1-yard TD run by Darius Ashley with 9:45 to play in the period.
UofL stopped the Scarlet Knights on their next possession and had a chance to get closer. A personal foul penalty on Rutgers free safety Zaire Kitchen for his hard hit on Cards wide receiver Doug Beaumont, who left the field on a stretcher, gave the UofL the ball at the Scarlet Knights' 34. But a holding penalty on the Cards, and a sack of Froman, ended the threat.
"Doug's going to be fine, it looks like he's got a sprained neck and shoulder," Kragthorpe said afterward. "He's in the locker room right now, so he should be fine. They went ahead and did a CT scan and that came back negative. I want everybody to know that's a huge answer to a prayer."
Rutgers added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter - a 29-yard run by Sanu - to put the game out of reach.
The game ended with Rutgers taking a knee and a chorus of boos from the remaining fans in attendance.
"They gave Dan (Hawkins) another year at Colorado and I'm happy for him. I've won one less game than (Pittsburgh coach) Dave Wannstedt won in his first three years at Pitt, so I hope I get another chance to come out and be the coach. I want to coach these guys and I want to coach at Louisville," Kragthorpe said.
The coach then closed his press conference with his usual, "See you Monday," to the local media members.