Despite Teddy Bridgewater's best efforts, the Louisville defense came up small when it could least afford to shrink. It entered the game ranked first in the nation in points allowed, but when UCF could have been dealt a knockout blow, it allowed the Knights back into the game.
Louisville coughed up a 21-point third-quarter lead on Friday night, eventually losing 38-35 on its home field, costing itself a shot at the BCS and killing any chance Bridgewater might have had at winning the Heisman Trophy.
When it was over, and the dust had settled on the Cardinals' stunning defeat, B/R's Matt Miller said it best:
Ain't that the truth.
Louisville took a 21-point lead in the third quarter after UCF botched a punt and basically handed the Cardinals a touchdown. The Knights were bleeding in the water, and the Louisville crowd smelled that blood.
UCF got the football back with 7:52 remaining in the third frame. Its back was against the wall. But over the next 7:22, it would score three touchdowns and tie the game at 28 apiece.
That is simply unacceptable.
A fumble by Senorise Perry, which gave the ball quickly back to UCF inside the red zone, was largely responsible for that. But the defense deserves the brunt of the blame. In that seven-plus-minute stretch, the Knights ran 10 plays for 145 yards.
That is 14.5 yards per play.
And it looked just as ugly on tape as it did in the box score. Check out this 20-yard touchdown catch by Storm Johnson.
More importantly, check out the Louisville tackling:
Once again, Mr. Miller hit the nail on the head:
This was the case during the entirety of UCF's comeback, up to and including the game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
After Bridgewater drove Louisville down the field for a touchdown to retake the lead with three minutes left in the game, all the Cardinals needed was for the defense to keep UCF out of the end zone one time, and it could have thwarted the upset.
Instead, the Knights marched 75 yards in 11 plays and won the game. The game-winning score, in fitting fashion, was a two-yard pass from Blake Bortles to a wide-open receiver:
Because of the way we talk about quarterbacks, Bridgewater will be accused of "losing this game" or "shrinking from the moment" or some sort of other generic charge. That's the narrative that someone out there will write.
But it's not the truth. Bridgewater could have done more, sure, but at the end of the day, he completed 29-of-38 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns. Those stats are an accurate reflection of how well he played.
The defense couldn't get a stop. Perry had that one, huge turnover. Ryan Hubbell coughed up what should have been a touchdown catch in the first quarter, only to see his fumble bounce off the pylon for a touchback.
The team around him flat-out failed.
Bridgewater was predictably political after the game, telling the Associated Press (via ESPN), "You can't live in misery or live in a loss." He's a good teammate, not the type of guy to throw another player under the bus.
But given everything his defense cost him, Teddy would have had a right to be upset.
Now, no matter how Bridgewater plays the rest of this season, his Heisman campaign is realistically in the toilet. Same goes for the Cardinals quest for the BCS National Championship.
At this point, with UCF controlling its fate and owning the tiebreaker, making a BCS bowl of any sort would seem to be implausible.
Bridgewater played some of his best football on Friday, but the evening turned quickly from dream to nightmare. What could have been a high point of his career turned instead into one of its biggest disappointments—at least for the time being:
I guess there's a bright side to this after all.
If Bridgewater goes to Jacksonville, and a roster too untalented to compete at a high level weighs him down, at least he'll have experience dealing with it.