|No. 19 Louisville aims to bounce back against Kent State|
For No. 19 Louisville, it's pick-up-the-pieces time.
For Kent State, it could be a case of wrong place, wrong time.
The Golden Flashes' timing for their Saturday trip to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium isn't what one would term ideal. The Cardinals last week, with a chance to score a statement win over defending national champion Clemson and inject themselves into the national championship picture, instead laid a mutant egg.
The 47-21 final didn't fully reflect how overmatched Louisville looked at times. Its defense couldn't get a stop when one was needed, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson was overrun by the Tigers' deep, relentless pass-rushing line.
All the Cardinals (2-1) can do now is regroup and reload.
"We're not where I thought we were as a football team," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "But it's a long season ahead of us, a lot of games ahead of us, and we have a lot of work to do. The most important thing for us is to get better from here on."
While casual fans might focus on Jackson looking harried and harassed last week, the Cardinals' defense isn't holding up its end of the deal very well. A unit that last year seemed to play downhill most of the time and create big plays with aggressive play-calling appears to be having trouble adjusting to the more conservative style of defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon.
Louisville is allowing 36.7 points per game, giving up a spate of big plays in the passing game. Opponents are completing nearly two-thirds of their attempts and rolling up 331 passing yards per game.
The Cardinals might get back standout cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has missed the past two games because of a knee injury. He was considered day-to-day early in the week.
"We didn't play with a lot of confidence in the secondary the other night," Petrino said. "We gave them free access and let them come off the ball and gave them some easy completions. We've got to tighten up the coverage and challenge them. Make them work harder."
Kent State (1-2) could offer an avenue for a turnaround. The Golden Flashes haven't been prolific passers by any means. They threw for exactly 1 yard in a season-opening 56-3 loss at Clemson, then were blanked last week at Marshall 21-0.
In between those games was a 38-31 win over FCS foe Howard, meaning Kent State has scored one field goal in two games against FBS opposition.
"We've got to keep our heads up and keep moving forward," Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes said after the loss to Marshall. "The 21-0 (score) doesn't really reflect this game. We're going to continue to get better."
Kent State has been primarily a running team, throwing on just 21 percent of its plays this year. Reflected in the one-dimensional attack is that quarterback Nick Holley is the team's leading rusher with 207 yards on 35 carries. No running back has even managed 100 yards through three games.
One hundred yards is a good half sometimes for Jackson, whose 64 yards against Clemson moved him atop the Atlantic Coast Conference's record book for career rushing yards by a quarterback with 2,834. Joshua Nesbitt held the previous record at 2,806, and he played for Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech, users of an option-based attack.
Jackson's heroics aside, the Cardinals need more help for him in the ground game. Seniors Malik Williams and Reggie Bonnafon have combined for 256 yards and a per-carry average of 6.6 but are averaging only a combined 13 runs per game.
The practice field might not be a pleasant place in Louisville this week. Petrino takes pride in having a balanced, explosive offense that piles up the points. Even given the obvious skill of Clemson's front seven, the Cardinals weren't good under the prime-time spotlight.
"It may take a while to lift them back up because the first thing we're going to do is work really hard and go back to work -- find out where we're at," Petrino said. "The thing that you need to do is earn the right to win on the practice field."
Jackson's hopes of a repeat Heisman took a major hit, but Louisville's hopes for a big season can still be realized.
"My confidence is always high," tight end Charles Standberry said. "I think we just had a bad game. It's football. It happens."