Clutch performances abounded. Andrell Smith hauled in the prettiest touchdown catch I've seen him make. Johnny Patrick provided crisp coverage and even crisper tackling (I have to acknowledge shouting "don't f@#k with Johnny" more than once). Even Josh Chichester made some critical grabs, including a tough catch that he turned into our final touchdown (how far you have come, Chi). Hakeem Smith made several saving tackles. Brandon Heath found his way into the Orange backfield. And hats off to Justin Burke: after a rocky second quarter, he settled down and managed the offensive game plan with poise, throwing for 144 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
The story of this game is better narrated in terms of teamwork. On offense, our running back-by-committee design found room to manuever, powered in large part by Bilal Powell Jr. -- otherwise known as Jeremy Wright (seriously, what is Charlie Strong feeding these kids!?). Wright stepped up with 98 POWER yards on 19 attempts, while Victor Anderson added 46 yards on 10 attempts including some crucial rushes toward the end. The offensive line deserves equal credit -- they are an experienced unit and they exposed Syracuse's defensive front.
Meanwhile, Smith, Bellamy, Graham, and Chichester led the way for the receivers. Time after time, they bailed out Burke on errant throws. Whether by design or accident, Burke on his throws allowed the ball to hang up in the air a little longer than I would like, but you gotta hand it to our guys -- more often than not they came down with it. Is this the first game that no one in the receiving corp dropped a catchable pass?
On defense, Louisville's blitz attack succeeded in rattling quarterback Ryan Nassib's cage -- the image of a Cardinal defender hurtling full-speed into the backfield is one that Cards fans by now anticipate with delight. Their offense may have overwhelmed our D at times. But our guys are making crisp tackles, applying big-time pressure on the ball, and improving every week. At one point, the announcers described it as a "chess match" between Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. If so, then the game ends in checkmate -- Bedford 1, Marrone 0. Or however the hell you score chess.
And let it be known -- Charlie Strong is in this thing to WIN. Going for it on fourth down at the end -- that was ballsy. That was manning up. And in response, seeing that Louisville's offense was coming back and going for it on fourth down, Syracuse chose to "challenge the spot." Well, I guess that says something too. What it says to me is Charlie Strong beats out Marrone for Big East Coach of the Year right there.
"More Manly" Coach/Playcaller of the Year award, too.
Be proud, Louisville. Football teams that go on the road without their starting quarterback or running back and eke out a victory against a conference leader aren't football teams. They're Programs. And this program is one win away from bowl eligibility. Go Cards.