Tim Sullivan: Louisville's Sublime Season Tainted By 'Ridiculous' Rivalry Loss

Nov 27, 2023 at 11:02 am
UK defensive back Andru Phillips intercepts a pass to UofL wide receiver Jamari Thrash during the Governor's Cup game at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023.
UK defensive back Andru Phillips intercepts a pass to UofL wide receiver Jamari Thrash during the Governor's Cup game at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

The word for the day was “ridiculous.” Jeff Brohm used it liberally and disdainfully, describing touchdown runs made untouched and penalties incurred through emotions left unchecked.

The University of Louisville’s head football coach was reacquainted with his alma mater’s arch rivalry Saturday afternoon with grating, gnawing, sleepless-night exasperation. Kentucky rallied twice from 10-point deficits to earn its fifth straight Governor’s Cup victory, 38-31, and the best thing that could be said about it from a UofL standpoint is that the Cardinals may be too busy to brood, having qualified for next Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Florida State.

But there was no disguising their disgust and no point in pretending their pain would soon pass.

“This is my third year at Louisville, and I haven’t beat Kentucky yet,” Louisville linebacker Ben Perry said. “And knowing what we have now — the weapons we have now, I feel like we should have finished. We ain’t finish today and it’s going to be on my mind 'til next year.”  

In a little more than 11 minutes of game clock, spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, UofL squandered a 17-7 lead by allowing Kentucky’s Barion Brown to return a kickoff 100 yards, permitting a two-play touchdown drive that lasted only 59 seconds, and facilitating two more UK scoring drives with lost fumbles on successive possessions.

In 11 previous games, all but one of them victories, Louisville had lost only three fumbles. In losing five of its last six games, Kentucky had averaged a double-digit defeat while being outscored, 191-120. Yet despite the significant disparities in their trend lines, and the payback anticipated by a record L&N Stadium crowd of 59,225, the ridiculous succeeded in seizing the day from the sublime. 

“This hurts more than the others,” Brohm said. “We wanted to win this game, we put a lot of emphasis on it. I give Kentucky credit. They came in  here and beat us. Congrats to them. We didn’t do a good enough job, and, yeah, it stinks.”

UK defensive lineman Deone Walker tackles UofL running back Isaac Guerendo during the Governor's Cup game at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023. - Carolyn Brown - 502-797-2226
Carolyn Brown502-797-2226
UK defensive lineman Deone Walker tackles UofL running back Isaac Guerendo during the Governor's Cup game at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023.

A year from now, when the College Football Playoff expands from four to 12 teams, a second loss to an unranked opponent might cost Louisville a berth in the championship bracket. The stakes are surely lower now. Though beating Florida State would ensure UofL a spot in the Orange Bowl, losing the ACC Championship might not keep the Cards from spending New Year’s in Miami if the Seminoles are selected for the playoff.

Still, the psychic cost could be considerable. Losing to Kentucky for the fifth straight time means continued condescension from Wildcat fans and players. It could embolden more comments such as those made in advance of Saturday’s game by UK defensive tackle Deone Walker, who called Louisville fans “snobbish” and its players “entitled.” It leaves a taint on a 10-win season enhanced by a comparatively soft schedule.

“To be quite honest, I think the last three games on defense have been subpar,” Brohm said, “and we need to do better than that. So it will start with me and our coaches first. We need to have a better plan. I think that’s the main culprit – there needs to be a better plan put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen and you give up 100-yard rushers and 300-yard passers and a ton of points in three straight games. . .

“Sometimes when you’re doing something, there has to be a little change here and there. There has to be something they haven’t seen. You can’t just run the same thing every week against really good opponents. There’s got to be some creativity and some coaching going on, so we need to make sure we do that.”

Though it’s hard not to read that statement as an indictment of UofL’s co-defensive coordinators, Ron English and Mark Hagen, reading too much into what a coach says in the immediate aftermath of a crushing disappointment is generally unwise. And sometimes ridiculous.