LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Compared to most of Louisville's games this season, Friday night's clash with No. 13 Syracuse started off with a ray of hope.
After Dez Fitzpatrick caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jawon Pass on their first series of the second quarter to cap an impressive 75-yard drive, the Cardinals trailed just 10-7 and the season-high crowd of 42,797 in the Carrier Dome was relatively quiet.
But hope quickly dissolved into despair with a flurry of points by Syracuse (8-2, 5-2 ACC) and the game wound up just like most of the Cardinals' (2-8, 0-7) in this nightmare of a season as the Orange reeled off 27 unanswered points for a 37-7 halftime lead en route to a 54-23 rout.
"It happened pretty fast," U o fL cornerback Anthony Johnson said. "Just kind of lost track of the score, like, 'Man, we’re down this many points?'"
Looking inarguably like one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, U of L allowed 50 points or more for the fifth time this season. Only one other FBS team, Oregon State, has given up 50 points even three times. And the Cards became just the third FBS club in the last 15 years to surrender 35 points or more in three consecutive games, joining Indiana (2011) and Rice (2005).
Of course, the outcome was pretty much expected, which in itself speaks volumes about the lowly state of Louisville's program, which is in disarray from all angles. Syracuse was a solid 21-point favorite, but this time the Cards went out of their way to embarrass themselves on national TV. Their shoddy, undisciplined performance drew constant criticism from the ESPN announcing crew, who at one point suggested that U of L coach Bobby Petrino has lost control of his players.
ESPN2 had finally seen enough and switched to the kickoff of Fresno State-Boise State, moving the final eight minutes to ESPN News.
UofL drew penalty flags 17 times for a total of 125 yards, even managing to draw two penalties on the same play, one that encapsulated the Cards' lack of control.
After Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey fell on a fumble from a high snap and was simply lying on the ground, P.J. Blue flew into him, drawing a personal foul. Then Blue got up and pushed a Syracuse player in the face, drawing another flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Adding to the problems created by the penalties of almost every type -- 11 in the first half alone -- during Syracuse's 30-point explosion in the second half were four straight turnovers by the Cards. Pass fumbled twice, the second time dropping the ball without being touched, and threw an interception.
After Pass's second fumble, and with backup Malik Cunningham having suffered an injury earlier in the quarter, Petrino inserted walk-on Sean McCormack (who?) at quarterback. McCormack, a redshirt sophomore from Darien, Ill., making his collegiate debut, promptly threw an interception on his first pass attempt.
"The second quarter just killed us," Petrino said. "You can't give the ball to Eric Dungey four times; he's a really great player. Our defense was able to compete, but we put their offense on short fields, making it easy for them to score. And we had way too many penalties. Their defensive ends are great pass rushers that caused some of the penalties because we were antsy to get out of our stance to block them."
Dungey completed 14-of-27 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown and ran 16 times for 62 yards and two TDs. UofL gave up two big touchdown plays -- a 67-yard run by Moe Neal during the second-quarter blitz and a 65-yard pass from Dungey to Nyheim Johnson early in the fourth quarter when he beat freshman cornerback Chandler Jones.
Neal averaged 19.9 yards per carry with a career-high 159 yards in only eight carries as the Orange gained 326 yards on the ground. Besides his long TD run, Neal also rambled 68 yards on the first series of the second half to set up Dungey's 2-yard score.
Louisville's defense did have its moments. The Cards held Syracuse to four field goals after it had driven into the red zone and junior cornerback P.J. Mbanasor intercepted a Dungey pass in the end zone midway through the third quarter.
UofL's offense finally got into a rhythm late in the game behind Pass's running and passing, leading to a 7-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall and a 4-yarder by Colin Wilson.
Pass completed 13-of-25 throws for 196 yards and netted 80 yards rushing after being sacked four times for losses of 36 yards. UofL's running backs managed just 53 yards on 20 carries.
"We talked about effort at halftime," Petrino said. "We needed to come out and work extremely hard. I felt like offensively, Puma kept competing and made a couple plays where he moved us down the field and put some points on the board. Defensively, I thought they competed all night."
The loss snapped Louisville's four-game winning streak in the series and was the first for Petrino in seven meetings with Syracuse, which was pounded by the Cards 56-10 and 62-28 the past two seasons.
Louisville will host N.C. State (6-3, 3-3) Saturday in Cardinal Stadium. The Wolfpack is ranked No. 14 in the current College Football Playoff Standings, but is likely to drop out Tuesday due to its 27-23 loss to Wake Forest Thursday night.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.