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Don't Remember Me This Way

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Louisville is 5-6, and I'm pretty certain Brian Brohm deserves better. But maybe not - since Brohm's near-flawless game in the Cardinals' upset at then-undefeated Cincinnati, a win that  momentarily absolved the curse of three losses in four games and gave UL a renewed sense of opportunity with the bulk of the conference schedule still waiting, the Cards' have again lost three of four, and the culprit down the stretch hasn't been the of-charred defense as much as it has Brohm's suddenly unreliable decision-making and accuracy. Last year, Brohm threw five interceptions all season en route to a win in the Orange Bowl; In UL's first seven games this season (after which it sat at 4-3), he threw just four. In the Cardinals' last three losses alone, he's thrown seven interceptions to four touchdowns, the first time in his career that number has turned on him over any multi-game stretch, and he threw three interceptions in the most recent humiliation in a season full of them, a 55-17 drubbing at South Florida two weeks ago. The current falls on the blue chip, the golden boy, the could-have-been number one pick as he struggles in vain to overcome the sagging running game around him, to offset the yields of a defense that can't cover and can't get to the quarterback, to salvage something from the season that was supposed to end in triumph.

There's a very good chance the final curtain tonight against Rutgers will be Brohm's last, even the Cardinals muster enough pride and defense to vanqish the team that ruined their otherwise perfect season last fall - a win would get Louisville eligible for a bowl, but at 3-4 in the Big East and just 6-6 overall, sixth place in the conference, not an attractive candidate. Really, this season for UL is beyond salvaging, and really was a long time ago. Brohm has continued to deliver a steady barrage of yards (3,787) and touchdowns (29), but his final team beat Murray State and (barely) Middle Tennessee State, and is 3-6 since with a loss to Syracuse and no consecutive wins since the first two. The only thing left, really, is some kind of redemption agaisnt the defense that hounded Brohm into the least productive performance of his career last year in New Jersey.

Well, at least I didn't take the Miami job...
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If the Knights lose, they'll be about as disappointing. Rutgers is going to bowl, at least, and beat Syracuse, at least, but aside from the Thursday night win over South Florida, the season was a drain on its hyped run in 2006 and Greg Schiano's rocketing reputation: Rutgers was upset by Maryland, upset by Cincinnati, dropped at UConn and blown out at home by West Virginia. The Knight offense has itself hit a wall, 400-yard rushing game against mighty Army notwithstanding - Mike Teel, for all the promise for improvement he showed late in his sophomore season and early this year against very bad competition, has matched Brohm's late slide and raised it, throwing six picks to just one touchdown in the last four games, including three interceptions in the last two (wins over the aforementioned Knights and Pittsburgh) despite throwing just 13 passes. Backup and Star Wars extra Jabu Lovelace can't hit the side of a barn with a pass (4 of 16 in limited duty over the last two) but hasn't turned the ball over and has made up for his blinding lack of arm with good productivity as a scrambler. But it's taken Army and Pitt to get this team to seven wins.

Nebraska and Alabama notwithstanding, probably no team has underachieved as spectacularly as Louisville, and no game since the Cards' trip to West Virginia two weeks ago has lost as much juice as this one, which was conceivably a do-or-die game with BCS implications in early September. In reality, only a couple of elements on either team have been anything like what we thought they'd be, and most of those work in Rutgers' favor: the Knights are still outstanding at making and keeping Ray Rice the focal point of the offense (he averages 30 carries against defenses not from Norfolk State and has not been held to less than 94 yards), protecting Teel (Rutgers is second in sacks allowed per game, against a UL front that's nearly achieved a first-to-worst slide nationally in rushing the passer, from second in 2005 and 06 to 101st this year) and stopping the pass (the Knights are second in yards allowed through the air and eighth in pass efficiency defense, though though both have been achieved largely against the non-Louisville portion of Big East quarterbacks).
We have to assume that Brohm is going to do his share of damage, but also, given last year's second half meltdown the last month of UL woe, that the fast-changing, that the oft-blitzing Knights will force him into a few mistakes, as well, which is hardly the way to go out at home. But then so few of us get to time our exits.

Rutgers 34 Louisville 28