Thursday, November 02, 2006

Louisville Slugged: Cards drop Mountaineers, 44-34

We're Number 3, we're Number 3, we're Number 3!"

Contrary to what Public Enemy rapped so many years ago, when it comes to Louisville and West Virginia you most certainly CAN believe the hype. For the second consecutive season the Cardinals and Mountaineers played a thrilling slugfest: last year's 44-43, 3OT heart-stopper, and now this year's wacky & wildly entertaining 44-34 Cardinal victory. This game had it all, including numerous fumbles & players tripping over themselves, a power outage, punt returns for touchdowns, fumble returns for touchdowns and over 1000 combined yards of total offense.

With the win the 5th ranked Cardinals clearly moved ahead of the 2nd ranked Mountaineers and most likely jumped the 4th ranked Texas Longhorns(BCS) and Florida Gators(AP) for sole possession of 3rd place in both polls. But more than that it was a statement win for a team in desperate need of national recognition. All week long leading up to this game the talk was about West Virginia and their two phenomenal, Heisman-caliber players, QB Pat White & RB Steve Slaton. It was as if the Cardinals were an afterthought to the Mountaineers' march to the Fiesta Bowl, home of this year's National Championship game. The only mention of Louisville was to refer to their 17-point 4th quarter meltdown in the loss last year in Morgantown. I didn't hear one analyst pick "The Ville" in this one, but my buddy Ira tells me Doug Flutie did choose them; of course another Boston boy was smart enough to see what was going to happen.
In the words of Chicago Bob, "Coalmine, moonshine, West Virginia's movin' on down the line."

You can only kick a dog so much when he's down, and from the start it was apparent that the Cardinals were clearly ready for this tilt. They came out guns blazing, determined to give the high-powered Mountaineers the game of their lives, and they started on the opening drive. QB Brian Brohm(19-26, 353yds, 1TD), nursing his surgically-repaired right thumb, marched the Cards right down the field and appeared to be heading for a TD until a sack stalled the drive and they had to settle for a 39-yd FG. After the teams traded scoreless drives, WV got on the board thanks to a 42-yd TD run by Slaton-if you haven't seen this kid play then you are really missing out- he is a special player who has moves on top of moves & a 6th gear to blow by would-be tacklers, which is exactly what he did on this jaunt. That made it 7-3 Mountaineers after 1 quarter, but the lead would be short-lived.

Louisville started the 2nd quarter by scoring 10 quick points on yet another FG (they were stalling in the red zone all night) and a 10 yard TD run by Tampa's own Anthony Allen, a bruising 6'1" freshman who has jumped to second on the depth chart thanks to his strong running.

Anthony Allen is yet another talented Tampa product-and he's a frosh

That made the score 13-7 Cards, but in a game that resembled a heavyweight fight, Pat White & the Mountaineers landed the next big blow. They marched 81 yards in 2:12 behind White's 40 yard pass & run to Darius Reynaud and 3 straight QB keepers, the last ending in a 2-yd TD. The see-saw affair continued, now 14-13, but it would end up being West Virginia's last lead of the chilly night.

True to form the Cards answered with an 11-play, 76-yard drive of their own in a quick 3:00, highlighted by a 36-yd pass to Mario Urrutia(6recs, 113yds,1TD) and 4 runs by Allen. Although the drive ended in yet another field goal, Louisville took a 16-14 lead into halftime, and that would prove to be the last time the two teams were that close on the scoreboard.

The second half began with some of the craziest happenings in a college football game in years. The Mountaineers received the ball and Slaton ripped of a 30-yard run to get near midfield, but on the next play he was hit and the ball knocked loose; Louisville recovered and had the ball at their 41 after a personal foul penalty (there were 6 of them in the game combined.) Now it was the Ville's turn to gag, as Brohm found receiver Jimmy Riley along the left sideline for a 27-yard gain, but Riley, a seldom-used senior given a chance to play by Coach Petrino, fumbled the ball at the 12 to give it right back. This is when things really got strange. A power failure knocked out many banks of stadium lights. Now the irony is that the night was dubbed "Blackout Night", as the fans all wore black and the players wore their menacing black unis. Talk about divine intervention. What happened next was the stuff of ESPN Classic games. Slaton took the handoff again and proceeded to immediately fumble again, this time the ball scooped up Malik Jackson and returned 15 yards for a touchdown. All of this took place within the first 3 minutes of the half. But the real bad news was that Slaton apparently injured his left arm or hand and came out of the game. He was seen repeatedly flexing his hand on the sideline, and he missed the rest of the 3rd quarter with whast was described as a hit to the funny bone. WVU quickly went 3 & out, and the ensuing punt was short (27yds) & to the wrong side of the field (away from the Mountaineer coverage) and Louisville's Trent Guy scampered 40 yards nearly untouched for a backbreaking score that made it 30-14 and signified that the Cards were not going to be denied on this evening.

Slaton did return and the teams traded scores for a while, but it was too little, too late. The point was emphasized in this game was that although the Mountaineers are a devastating ground team, without their top gun Slaton their offense sputters and looks inconsistent, and their defense isn't good enough to stop a potent offense.White was a one-man show in keeping his team in the game despite a foot injury suffered in the 3rd, both with his legs (23 carries, 125 yards, 4TDs) and his arm (13-20, 222yds) , but without Slaton this becomes a very one dimensional team. Throw in the fact that West Virginia absolutely could not stop the Cardinals at any point in the game, and it really begs the question if the Mountaineers were truly the top 3 team they were supposed to be. And the Cards proved to be very deep at both running back and receiver. Check out these stats:
RB Kolby Smith-13 carries, 73 yards, several big runs
WR Mario Urrutia- hometown boy made huge catches (6recs,113yds,1TD)
WR Harry Douglas-6 recs, 116 yards

And even though they didn't run for nearly what they normally do (only 114 yards, 100 below their average), the arm of Brohm was more than enough to keep them moving the chains.

So the first time West Virginia faces a quality opponenet they fold like a house of Cards, and it wasn't due to the surprise blackout.

It was purely the result of an extremely good, underrated blacked-out Louisville team.

Brohm is most certainly the BMOC in the Ville

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