CFN Bowl Analysis ... Beef 'O'
Louisville 31 ... Southern Miss 28
Among the worst teams in the nation in kickoff return defense, Southern Miss blew its chance to win the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl because the special teams kept breaking down. The Eagle offense had its share of key mistakes, too, but this was on the coverage team that allowed a 95-yard Jeremy Wright kickoff return for a score that killed the momentum and sparked the Cardinals to the win. Throw in the inability to stop Johnny Patrick on the blocked field goal attempt in the third, and USM ended up losing because it didn't do the little things right.
USM head coach Larry Fedora and the coaching staff will be going crazy watching the film of this game. The Eagle offense worked, getting the big plays early with the ground game dominant and the passing attack clicking, while the defense was fantastic against the pass and kept Bilal Powell under wraps. But here and there, enough mistakes were made to lead Louisville creep back in the game, the door stayed open, and the result was a tough bowl loss.
It's a nice seven-win stepping-stone season for Louisville, and now it'll be interesting to see how Charlie Strong parlays this into 2011. The offense has to be better and more consistent, and without Powell, but the defense needs to keep being opportunistic. This wasn't the best of performances by the Cardinals this year, but the team hung around and somehow found a way to win. Big plays at key times made it happen, but it would've been nice to get more out of the offense. 287 yards aren't going to get it done against the better teams, and the Cardinals got away with one. USM helped to give it away.
- If you had told the USM coaching staff that the Eagles would jump out to a 21-7 first half lead, and that Louisville would finish with under 300 yards of offense, they would've assumed an easy bowl win. USM was 18th in the nation in turnover margin and almost never beat itself.
- Justin Burke might not have been a special quarterback, but the Louisville senior had some nice hot streaks over the last month of the season. He picked a great time to be on with a great second half against the Eagles.
- USM did a great job of spreading the ball around and getting creative. The offense had plenty of weapons and plenty of options, but it fizzled way too much in key times in the second half. USM had several chances to put the game away, and didn't.
It sure wasn't pretty. In the grand scheme of things, it sure didn't need to be.
Louisville hadn't been to the postseason in four years, let alone win one of these, so beating Southern Miss in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl had special meaning to it. The Cardinals went down early and didn't play especially crisp on either side of the ball, yet found a way to win, a budding trademark of a Charlie Strong team. While the coach still has a long way to go, getting to 7-6 when the expectations were low and the talent was sparse is a huge accomplishment. This comeback win, as imperfect as it was, is an ideal way to enter the offseason and jump start a rebuilding program.
- Louisville won't truly evolve under Strong until a quarterback develops. Whenever the Cards have been Top 25-caliber, they had a Brian Brohm, Chris Redman, or Browning Nagle under center. Justin Burke was serviceable tonight, but the current crop Strong inherited needs to be upgraded through recruiting.
- If you're Southern Miss, you can't play that poorly on special teams and expect to win a tight one. The Golden Eagles botched a punt, had a field goal blocked, and gave up a game-tying kickoff return for six.
- Lou Holtz is a lovely man and an icon of college football. However, I honestly can't listen to him during broadcasts. Thank you, mute button.
By Matt Zemek
Much like Nebraska's loss at Texas A&M in November, the 2010 Beef ‘O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl was decided by officiating. In 99.4 percent of all football games, the rulings made by arbiters on the field or in the replay booth should not be given undue centrality, primacy or prominence in relationship to the final outcome. Oh, but in that remaining 0.6 percent of pigskin passion plays, a bad call at a tipping-point moment carries a disproportionate yet undeniable amount of weight. Such was the case in this game. Louisville running back Bilal Powell fumbled… unless it was determined that the underside of his hand touched the ground (not his open palm) before he fell. The Sun Belt referee never made a specific announcement to that effect when the replay booth upheld a (non-fumble) ruling on the field. Therefore, we're left to conclude that the call was plainly botched.
This wasn't the worst-officiated bowl game by a Sun Belt crew, however. If you recall the 2005 Michigan-Nebraska Alamo Bowl, that slugfest in San Antonio turned out to be 10,000 times as mismanaged as this game was. Nevertheless, a blown call in a key situation swung this game toward Louisville and away from Southern Miss. Why do we have replay if it's not going to be used properly? Hire an unemployed person and give him (or her) the chance to see a play correctly. The booth reviewer for this game evidently couldn't put two and two together after looking at a monitor for a few minutes. It's really rather ridiculous that this problem persists in college football (then again, the BCS is worse).
--With all of the above having been said, big kudos to Louisville – YOU HEAR THAT, UTEP, FRESNO STATE AND OHIO?! – for actually bouncing back and showing something resembling a spine after being pancake-flat in the early stages of competition. Unlike the first three blowout losers in the 2010-2011 bowl season, Louisville responded instead of rolling over. That's a testament to none other than Charlie Strong, who has certifiably changed the culture in Bluegrass country and has the Cardinals poised to make even more gains in the Big East as time marches on. Full credit to a team and coaching staff who showed Fresno State what resilience looks like. It is sincerely hoped that Saturday's losing teams watched this Louisville comeback.
--Very simply but powerfully: Tell me again – why did Southern Mississippi Athletic Director Richard Giannini think it necessary to fire Jeff Bower a few years ago?