Louisville dropped to 2-6 with a 56-35 loss at home to Wake Forest on Saturday. The Cardinals have had a brutal season, but this beating is extra notable for how bad it was.
The loss opens up an ironic possibility: Wake Forest, the team that had confidential game plan documents leaked to Louisville during its dramatic #WAKEYLEAKS football espionage caper in 2016, might have just pushed Bobby Petrino closer to his firing. Even more poetically, a player whose scholarship Petrino’s staff pulled in 2015 was Wake’s box score hero.
More importantly, given Louisville’s remaining schedule and how the Cards looked in this game, there’s now a solid chance they’re heading for a 2-10 season.
There was already copious evidence that Louisville is bad.
The Cardinals entered Week 9 with a 2-5 record, ranked 97th in S&P+, which pegged them as one of the worst teams in all the power conferences.
Pretty much everything’s been bad. Jawon Pass, the QB charged with replacing Lamar Jackson, has struggled. The offense struggles to both stay on schedule and create big plays. The defense gets regularly gashed against both the run and the pass, letting offensive lines blow open huge holes and rarely generating pressure on opposing QBs. The only phase of the game that hasn’t been terrible is special teams.
But this loss to Wake Forest is arguably the Cardinals’ worst, most embarrassing performance yet.
There have been other embarrassing losses. There was a loss to Florida State that happened mostly because Petrino made mind-bending pass call that led to an interception late in regulation, when Louisville was winning. There was a loss to Georgia Tech that gave Tech coach Paul Johnson long-sought revenge on U of L defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
But in its own way, this loss is uniquely painful and humiliating.
This was the likeliest remaining win on the schedule.
The Cards had a 56 percent win probability, according to S&P+, with a 2.6-point projected margin of victory. That metric doesn’t give them anything more than a 27 percent chance to win any of their remaining games. They’re likely to get chewed up at Clemson next week, and that’ll officially knock them out of bowl eligibility, setting up a dull final month. They also face likely losses at Syracuse, against NC State, and against Kentucky.
Heading into this week, S&P+ assessed the Cardinals’ chances of different win totals as:
- Two wins: 18 percent
- Three wins: 42 percent
- Four wins: 30 percent
- Five wins: 9 percent
- Six wins: 1 percent
What looked like a three- or four-win team now looks like a two- or three-win team. The team being so putrid on Saturday won’t help any projections for future games.
It’s difficult to overstate how ugly this game was for the Louisville defense.
The Demon Deacons came to Kentucky with an offense ranked 89th in S&P+ and 113th in yards per play. Wake’s really bad at almost everything related to scoring points. But these guys had 56 points with 19 minutes left against the Cardinals, matching a season high for a full game, which they’d achieved against S&P+ No. 129 team Rice in Week 5. Wake’s offense mostly chilled after that, which was fine.
Put most simply, Louisville played an awful offense and made it look like Oklahoma.
Petrino sure looks like he’s headed toward getting fired, even though his contract will make a firing pricy.
It’ll likely cost about $14 million to fire Petrino after the season. His contract suggests Louisville was prepared for Petrino to maybe leave for another school, as he does, but it doesn’t suggest that former athletic director Tom Jurich ever thought he’d have to fire him for football reasons. From SB Nation’s review of his contract:
Petrino’s 2018 pay, including the APR bonus, comes out to $4.475 million. If Louisville fired him on Dec. 1, right after the season, it would owe:
*$4.025 million for 2019
*$4.075 million for 2020
*$4.125 million for 2021
That’s $12.225 million.
But the school would still have to pay him whatever remains of his $3,975,000 base pay for 2018, going to the end of the calendar year. If Louisville fired him on Dec. 1, 2018, that’d leave him one more month of base pay for this year (about $331,000) on top of everything above. (His $500,000 APR payment is due in November, so he’d get that before being fired in this case.)
His buyout would total about $12.6 million at that point, but because of the deal’s structure, that likely would not be all. The language also suggests Petrino would likely get three more years of the $500,000 APR bonuses, even if he weren’t coaching. Unless Louisville argued against that or somehow failed to keep up its APR, Petrino’s buyout would rise by another $1.5 million, going to about $14.1 million on Dec. 1, 2018.
Petrino’s buyout is so big that it wasn’t hard to see him surviving a 5-7 or even 4-8 year. But now, 3-9 would be an achievement.
Things are worse than almost anyone expected, even in the first year after a transcendent player left for the NFL. Petrino’s Cardinals underachieved when they had Jackson at the height of his powers, and they look like a complete disaster now that he’s gone.