The Louisville Cardinals had two weeks to improve and prepare following its first loss of the season at Syracuse two weekends ago. However, the performance that Charlie Strong's team displayed against Connecticut looked disinterested and ill-prepared. The typically high-octane Cardinals had the appearance of a team that had little interest in playing on a chilly Saturday afternoon - senior day or not.
Since establishing a school record for best start to the season at 9-0 and feeling slighted by the national media, the Cardinals have dropped two crucial conference games in a row and descended from a top ten ranking to being unranked in the latest polls.
"The goal is to finish out the season the right way," Strong said following the Cardinals 23-20 triple-overtime loss. "You are here and you have a group of seniors and you want to go out and finish the season right for them. We have to play better. We didn't play very well today."
Playing in its first game without leading rusher Senorise Perry and facing one of the nation's top ten run defensive teams, the Cardinals never found a rhythm offensively. Jeremy Wright was forced to carry the load, as reserve Corvin Lamb received just three carries. U of L's running game managed just 2.7 yards a carry.
Unable to run the ball, Louisville was forced into a passing game and the UConn defense took full advantage. The Huskies registered 5 sacks, 3 hurries and 11 tackles for a loss.
"The way we were blocking no running back would have been a difference maker," said Strong. "If you look they had a lot of tackles behind the line of scrimmage so no, I don't think he would have made a difference."
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was knocked out the game twice, but returned both times. Following a first half that saw him throw for just 75 yards, the sophomore overcame a fractured wrist and injured ankle during the second half and overtime periods to finish with 331 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"UConn won it at the line of scrimmage," said Strong.
While the Cardinals offense struggled, the defense was doing its part to keep the game within reach. It forced UConn to punt 10 times and held the Huskies below the season scoring and scoring average.
What the defense didn't do was capitalize on big play opportunities. James Burgess' third quarter interception was one of what should have been multiple thefts, including what appeared to be an easy grab that would have clinched a win for U of L during overtime.
U of L was led by Calvin Pryor's 11 tackles. Burgess and Preston Brown both recorded 10 stops. For Burgess, it was his first double-digit tackle effort and his first career interception. Roy Philon notched the team's only sack of the game.
While a loss to a very beatable Connecticut squad stings, it is lackluster performance that's more concerning. Louisville can control its post season fate. A win at Rutgers on Thursday night and the Cardinals are Big East Conference champions for a second consecutive season and likely headed to Miami for the New Year.
Question is, which team will finish out the Cardinals season? Will we see the team that refused to lose during its run of nine straight wins, or will the team finish out by dropping three in a row? The difference could be Miami or Charlotte and a top ten preseason ranking for 2013. What'll be?
Louisville and Rutgers will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.