U of L running game

An email response to my last blog entry on the Cardinal offense: “I would like to know when we will get answers to real questions. Why can’t we run the ball? Why is this a rebuilding season? Why did Koach discuss titles in the preseason and now we are ‘rebuilding.?’ Who will take responsibility for this?” From CardinAustin.

Let’s go in order:

“Why can’t we run the ball?”
When looking for explanations, the simplest answer should be looked at first. And the simplest answer, in this case, is that U of L simply doesn’t have the running backs it has had in the past. U of L has had an NFL Draft pick as its primary runner every year since 2002. In most cases, it had multiple NFL Draft picks operating out of the same backfield.

At the moment, Anthony Allen and George Stripling might get a shot on some NFL rosters, but there’s no sure-fire pro running back in this group.

Second, injuries. Allen has been hurt. So has Sergio Spencer. Stripling served a suspension. Brock Bolen has done a good job, but he can’t shoulder the entire load.

Third, scheme. Now this is a little tricky, because I am assuming if Kragthorpe had a Michael Bush-type of back, he’d be running the ball more. There’s a little bit of a chicken and egg question that goes on with this — is the scheme emphasizing the pass causing the running game to decline, or is the decline of the running game prompting the coaches to run less. I think it’s a bit of both. This offense featured plenty of running when it was having success at it early in the season. Even the previous coach often scolded himself for needing to be even more stubborn when it looked like the running game wasn’t going anywhere.

Regardless the stats are pretty telling. Just look at the red zone alone. In the red zone last season, U of L had 31 rushing touchdowns and 11 passing TDs. This year, the Cards have 17 rushing TDs and 21 passing.

You also can point to injuries along the offensive front as a contributing factor, even if it’s only in one position.

So we have the following: Talent, injuries to running backs, scheme and injuries on the line.

I’d rank the factors in that order. That may not satisfy the desire for a readily identifiable scapegoat, but that’s as accurate an assessment as I can find.

“Why did Koach discuss winning titles in the preseason and now we are rebuilding?” Kragthorpe’s only preseason mention of a national title that I can find came in a very general statement — in essence, saying, that every team is working to win a championship. If you’re not, you don’t have any business out here. Brian Brohm was more direct in his statements about a national title goal, as were other players.

Why must it now be “rebuilt?” Well, because it has skewed off course. The real problem with this team is truly assessing where it stands is in the crazy nature of this season. The losses to Syracuse and UConn have been the back-breakers. U of L should be 7-3 right now. It should not have lost to those teams, and if the Cards were 7-3 right now, you’d hear some grousing, but far fewer of these kinds of questions. U of L has had a chance to win all five of those losses in the fourth quarter. So while there might be talk about “rebuilding,” you’re not talking about a house that has completely fallen.

Losing magnifies everything. It takes every flaw and puts it up on the jumbo-tron.

“Who will take responsibility for this?” Contrary to some sentiment, what has happened with U of L football this season is not a crime. Nobody needs to go to jail. We have gotten to the point in sports that when a team loses, someone has to “pay.” This is college football. You have a season that’s not as good as you’d hoped, you work harder in the offseason, go recruit some new players, maybe make some changes in the way you do things, and try to get better the next year. If you have a run of bad years, or something else goes wrong, then you start to look for another coach.

After UK lost to Gardner-Webb last week, Brett Dawson reported that Gillispie was out on the road recruiting the next day. An emailer wrote in to say, “Mitch Barnhart should be out on the road too — looking for a new coach.”

After two games? While I’m all to happy to critique what I see on the field and what I observe from a coaching standpoint, it’s not for me to buy into the kind of knee-jerk, snapshot, emotional reaction that pass for analysis in many quarters.

I think when the dust has cleared on this U of L football season, this coaching staff will be one that is viewed as having gotten off to a wobbly start before finding its legs as the season progressed. We can’t know what problems were lying in wait for whomever took over as coach, or whether those would have been problems anyway this season, or whether things would have been different under someone else.

But that’s a judgment that is best left until the season is over at this point, with just two games remaining. In the meantime, I’ll offer comment on events as they happen and trends as they unfold.

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3 thoughts on “U of L running game

  1. Very insightful analysis and I am in full agreement that the Syracuse and Utah games are the season killers here. However, given the level of competition, the Syracuse game should no way have been a loss…even a middle of the pack coach should have been able to get this talented team a victory at home.If Louisville does not win out to finish 7 and 5 I cannot imagine the pressure on the team next fall. He will,literally,be fighting for his professional life(and that is not a good thing).

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