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Does Louisville Take Its Foot Off The Gas?

Louisville held a 36-7 lead heading into the halftime break against North Carolina on Saturday. It lead 36-14 after three quarters. What followed was as furious a comeback as you will ever see. North Carolina scored on a long catch and run on a screen pass. Scored on a short field after a blocked punt, and nearly scored to win the game after Louisville fumbled a kickoff return deep in its own territory. The Cardinals were fortunate to escape with a 39-35 win, but the effort in the second half has caused many to accuse or at least ask if the coaching staff takes the proverbial foot off the gas in the second half of games this year. While a number of factors go into the differences in offensive production being different between halves, there's no doubt that Louisville is less productive and allows opponents to hang around or claw back into games in the second half.

Louisville Offensive Production
Opponent 1st Half 2nd Half
Kentucky 36 plays, 319 yards 36 plays, 147 yards
Missouri St. 47 plays, 327 yards 30 plays, 148 yards
North Carolina 39 plays, 362 yards 32 plays, 100 yards
Total 122 plays, 1008 yards 98 plays, 395 yards

As I said in the first paragraph, there are a number of different things that go into the offense slowing down the second half. There are games every week where a team gets a large lead, puts in some reserves, calls more running plays than passing plays and the scoring slows way down to expedite the end of the game and to show al little sportsmanship. Charlie Strong even said in the postgame press conference against North Carolina that they had the lead and simply wanted to run the ball to get the game over with. The problem for Louisville is this is a very young team. As North Carolina steadily narrowed the Louisville lead, the offense couldn't turn it back up and be productive once it was time to move out of "bleed the clock" mode to "answer mode". You also have to credit North Carolina some for making solid halftime adjustments to counteract what Louisville had been doing. The Tar Heels did the same thing against Wake Forest last week. But that doesn't explain everything. Here is a chart of Louisville's second half possessions against North Carolina

Plays Yards Result
10 55 Stopped On Downs
13 49 Field Goal
6 1 PUNT
3 -5 PUNT
0 -2 Fumble
3 2 End of Game

Louisville escaped with a narrow win at home against a North Carolina team that they could have and perhaps should have blown out. The conservative play-calling and lack of execution allowed Kentucky and North Carolina to narrow large leads and almost cost them the game on Saturday. If it doesn't improve, it will eventually cost them a game.