NCF Nation: Cards-Orange-111012

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Louisville coach Charlie Strong came out of the visiting locker room with his head down and opened with a brutally honest assessment of what happened Saturday afternoon.

“I am very embarrassed today for our program,” Strong said.

No. 9 Louisville came into its game against Syracuse with almost every college football observer in the nation wondering whether the Cardinals were for real. They got no love in the polls, no love from the computers, and no love in the BCS standings as one of six unbeaten teams headed into the weekend.

The only way to shut up the doubters? To put together a complete effort in front of a national television audience Saturday afternoon and inch ever so slightly toward a perfect season.

Instead, Louisville put together its most incomplete effort of the season in a 45-26 loss, in what amounted to a completely inexplicable performance from the conference flag-bearer.

Now the Big East is left with zero unbeaten teams, and no more relevance in the national conversation. It was lost on nobody that the team that delivered the beatdown is headed out of the league and into the waiting arms of the ACC.

On the bright side, it's hard to imagine the Big East taking a huge hit to its image, given how little pundits think of this league. Going into this game, virtually everybody put Louisville on upset alert, so that should tell you that almost everyone thought Saturday's end result was inevitable.

The proof was there: Louisville hung on by a thread in every game this year, trailing at various points of nearly every contest. But this team had a resilience nobody else in the league showed. Louisville found a way to get to 9-0 -- its best start in school history.

The hot start was good for the Big East, despite nobody embracing this team. And yes, this season seemed to be shaping up differently for the much-maligned conference.

Remember, the story at the midseason point was three unbeaten teams carrying the conversation. Now, much has reverted to form around these parts. There is nobody strong enough to avoid an upset at the hands of (1) a losing team or (2) a team from the MAC.

There are easy explanations for what happened against the Orange, and it had nothing to do with luck running out. Louisville was outcoached and outplayed. Simple.

The Cardinals had their worst defensive performance under Strong. The last time the Cardinals gave up this many points, Steve Kragthorpe was the coach and Louisville lost to Rutgers 63-14 to close out the 2008 season.

You name it, and, well, it went wrong. Louisville could not contain Syracuse receiver Alec Lemon, who ended up with 176 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Louisville could not stop the run, giving up 278 yards on the ground. Louisville got absolutely no pressure up front. Oh, and did we mention the missed tackles?

“The flaws really showed up today,” Strong said. “But you come on the road and you are going to get flaws. You have to be prepared. No. 1, you have to pack your defense. We didn’t pack our defense today. You have to pack your special teams. We didn’t pack our special teams. It’s discipline. We weren’t a very disciplined football team today. What happens -- you come into an environment like this and lose a game.”

The offense wasn't exactly rockin’ and rollin’ out there, either. The run game was nonexistent once the Cardinals lost leading rusher Senorise Perry to a leg injury on the opening drive. After trailing 31-10 in the second quarter, Louisville had to abandon its game plan and just fling it on every down. But even then, Teddy Bridgewater had difficulty finding his most reliable targets, because Syracuse just took them all away.

“We felt like we knew what they were going to do on each and every down,” Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas said. “We knew if we stayed attached to the receivers and Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have anybody to throw to, he’d have to throw it out of bounds.”

None of this is to take away from what Syracuse did on senior day. The Orange had the perfect game plan, and worked hard to control every aspect. They did just that, winning everywhere: offense, defense, special teams, the turnover battle, time of possession, third-down conversions, scoreboard.

Syracuse now stands one win away from becoming bowl-eligible. All that “hot seat” talk about Doug Marrone should be firmly put to rest. The man has now led his team to upset wins against highly ranked unbeaten squads two years in a row.

For Louisville, the disappointment cannot last long. The anger in the postgame locker room must turn to focus and motivation. Despite the loss, Louisville can still clinch a Big East title and a BCS appearance. Perhaps it was hard to really see that glimmer of hope after its unbeaten season was dashed.

But two more wins get the Cardinals to the same place they would be had they won out.

“When you’re winning every game and you’re undefeated, each game gets bigger and bigger regardless of who you’re playing, because you’re getting close to that undefeated season,” center Mario Benavides said. “Being undefeated was never our main goal. Our main goal is to win the Big East, and we can still do that.”

Video: Syracuse's Alec Lemon

November, 10, 2012

Andrea Adelson interviews Syracuse receiver Alec Lemon after the Orange beat No. 9 Louisville 45-26 on Saturday.

Video: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater

November, 10, 2012

Andrea Adelson interviews Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after the Cardinals' 45-26 loss to Syracuse.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse completely dominated No. 9 Louisville 45-26, handing the Cardinals their first loss of the season. Here is a quick look at how it happened:

It was over when: Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for a 55-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to put the Orange up 31-10. Though the Cardinals had been able to overcome their fair share of deficits this season, they never faced a 21-point deficit. This one just had a different feel from the beginning of the game. Syracuse completely and thoroughly dominated in all three phases, while Louisville never looked completely comfortable out there. The Cards were hurt when leading rusher Senorise Perry went down with a leg injury on the first drive of the game, and Syracuse took away Teddy Bridgewater's primary receiving targets. Defensively, Louisville had its worst performance of the season and simply could not generate much of a pass rush with Lorenzo Mauldin and B.J. Dubose missing as well.

Game ball goes to: Syracuse receiver Alec Lemon. It became a familiar refrain throughout the whole game. Alec Lemon: still open. Louisville simply did not have an answer for one of the best receivers in the Big East, and he ended up making the Cardinals pay. He had two first-half touchdown receptions and ended with nine catches for 176 yards, just shy of career marks in both categories.

Stat of the game: 0. As in zero turnovers for Syracuse. The Orange are 3-0 this season when they don't turn the ball over.

What it means: Louisville was the last remaining unbeaten team in the Big East, so losing -- and losing in such blowout fashion -- certainly does not help the league's image. But all hope is not lost for the Cards, so to speak. They will still have a shot at the Big East title and an automatic spot in the BCS if they win out. Louisville (9-1, 4-1) has a bye next week, then faces UConn and closes out on a Thursday night at Rutgers. Syracuse, a team that has cost itself victories this season with too many turnovers and mistakes, really boosted its chances of going back to a bowl game. The Orange (5-5, 4-2) just need to win one more with games left against Missouri and Temple.

Senorise Perry out for Louisville

November, 10, 2012
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Louisville leading rusher Senorise Perry hurt his leg on the opening series against Syracuse and is out for the remainder of the game.

Perry went into the contest leading the team with 703 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Cardinals use a two-back system with Jeremy Wright, who has 651 yards and nine touchdown runs. The bulk of the rushing load will now go to Wright and Corvin Lamb -- who showed just how explosive he is on a 53-yard touchdown catch off a screen pass late in the first quarter.

Lamb came into the game with two total carries for minus-1 yards.

Greetings from the Carrier Dome

November, 10, 2012
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Hello from the Carrier Dome, where most everybody expects No. 9 Louisville to face a tough challenge from Syracuse.

One of the big themes this week has been how much better Syracuse has played at home -- going 3-1 in the Dome this season. Its only loss here was in the opener against Northwestern, a heartbreaking 42-41 decision that was decided in the closing minutes.

But here is another point to remember: Louisville has done well on the road this season, going 3-0 away from home. More than that, the Cardinals have won six straight regular-season road games dating to last season. Now, none of that is to say the Cardinals are going to have a cakewalk. Those who have paid close attention know Louisville has had its share of road drama this season, needing second-half comebacks to beat Southern Miss and Pitt.

In fact, Louisville has fallen behind in all three of its road games this season, getting outscored 52-43 in the first half. But pay particular attention to the third quarter: Louisville has shut out its opposition 31-0 in that period in its three road games. For some of its warts, this Louisville team is one that simply never quits.

You can definitely bet Syracuse will not be intimidated facing one of the top-ranked teams in the nation. Back in Week 2, the Orange took No. 2 USC down to the wire, playing with the Trojans for three quarters before ultimately losing 42-29. I mentioned the loss to No. 24 Northwestern. And they also hung with then-No. 20 Rutgers a few weeks ago, before losing 23-15.

Plus, there is plenty on the line for the Orange. A win allows them to keep their bowl hopes alive. If they lose, they would need to beat both Missouri and Temple to become bowl-eligible. This is also senior day, so that could be an extra source of motivation. Ryan Nassib has had huge games in the Dome, and this is his final performance at home, along with starters Zack Chibane, Siriki Diabate, Alec Lemon, Deon Goggins, Marcus Sales, Brandon Sharpe and Shamarko Thomas.

Video: Louisville-Syracuse pregame

November, 10, 2012

Andrea Adelson discusses Louisville being on upset watch against Syracuse.