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MORRISS'S OFFENSE LIFELESS IN DEBUT VS. CARDS

Date story was published: Sunday, September 02, 2001

The University of Louisville football team didn't need any lightning delays or miracle blocked field goals at the end of regulation.

In beating the University of Kentucky for the third straight year, all the Cards really needed was the golden left arm of Dave Ragone and the swift feet of his receiving corps.

Ragone sliced the Wildcat defense up for 368 yards passing and three touchdowns as the Cards pulled away from a tight game in the third quarter and rolled to a 36-10 victory yesterday before 70,838 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.

The lopsided loss ruined Guy Morriss's head-coaching debut on the Wildcat sidelines. Morriss, who took over after former coach Hal Mumme resigned on Feb. 6, came in and immediately upgraded the team's conditioning program and promised a greater emphasis on defense, special teams and the running game.

It all sounded nice, but when the lights came on it was obvious the Wildcats still have a long ways to go.

"It's a learning process and a growing process of how to win," Morriss said. "You can't just show up and expect to win. You can talk, you can work hard, you can do everything in the world to get ready, but when it comes right down to it, at 12:37 you have to go out and prove that you're the better team.

"I think some of our players thought that we've got this new mentality, we've been conditioning, we've been working the running game, and it's just going to automatically happen for us. But it just doesn't work that way."

It took Ragone just 49 seconds to get the Cards on the board. On second-and-12 from his own 18-yard line, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior found Zek Parker behind Jeremy Bowie deep downfield, and Parker made the grab, put on a couple of nifty moves and bolted into the end zone for an 82-yard touchdown to give U of L a 7-0 lead.

Parker, an acclaimed kick returner, showed he's a pretty darn good receiver, too, catching six passes for 184 yards. His sidekick Deion Branch also caught six balls for 82 yards, and tight end Ronnie Ghent added a pair of11-yard touchdown catches.

"(Ragone) is a great quarterback, no doubt," Morriss said. "They hit some big plays on us."

While Ragone played pitch and catch with Parker and Co., an inept UK offense aided the Louisville cause.

The Cats finished with just 213 yards of total offense and failed to produce a touchdown. UK's only score came on Derek Abney's 47-yard punt return that tied the game 7-7 in the opening period.

"We've just got to get better, a whole lot better," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "We just didn't get a lot done, didn't really execute the way we needed to."

UK's best drive of the afternoon came when Morriss inserted backup Shane Boyd into the game on the first series of the second quarter. Boyd promptly marched the Cats 61 yards to the Louisville 4-yard line, but on first and goal Boyd's attempted handoff to Artose Pinner bounced off the elbow of fullbackGus Jacobs. Louisville defensive tackle Scott Lopez scooped up the fumble at the 5.

Neither Boyd nor starting quarterback Jared Lorenzen could lead the Wildcats into the end zone. Lorenzen finished just 12-for-31 for 121 yards, while Boyd was 3-for-6 for 34 yards. Both players threw an interception.

It wasn't just the passing game that failed to click. After watching New Mexico State run for 407 yards, Morriss had to feel like he could get some semblance of a ground game going yesterday. But the Cats struggled to just 58 yards on 28 carries and were tackled seven times behind the line of scrimmage.

"It just seemed like we couldn't find any kind of spark from either (Boyd or Lorenzen) today, but it wasn't just the quarterbacks, it was the whole offense, period," Morriss said. "We couldn't get untracked and get anything going.

"We felt like our running backs were trying to break everything outside and do too much east and west running instead of just finding a little crack, dropping your head and getting in it."

The Kentucky defense performed admirably for three quarters, but its lack of depth became painfully apparent in the fourth quarter.

Trailing just 16-10 with less than 12 minutes remaining, Ragone hit Branch for a 27-yard gain to the UK 14. Two plays later, he hit Branch again for a 3-yard gain, and UK linebacker Ronnie Riley was forced to leave the game with a knee injury.

The very next play, Ragone picked on Riley's replacement, true freshman Dustin Williams, and found Ghent for an 11-yard touchdown strike. U of L misfired on the two-point conversion attempt but still had a 22-10 lead with 9:57 left.

Lorenzen fumbled the center exchange on UK's next play from scrimmage at the Louisville 10, and T. J. Patterson scored two plays later to give U of L a 29-10 cushion at 9:32.

After a UK three-and-out, the Cards marched 69 yards in nine plays and Patterson bounced around right end for a 6-yard TD run to put a final nail in the coffin.

Morriss said the offense's inability to produce left the defense on the field far too long in the second half.

"How many times did we go three-and-out?" Morriss said. "You can run sprints until you're blue in the face, but if we could have done what we were committed to do offensively and helped our defense out, I don't think the game would have gotten out of control."

Defensive coordinator John Goodner said his unit will have to develop some depth in order to survive. Most of the first-stringers went the entire first half without a break.

"I felt like our kids played hard and with great effort and intensity, but we ran out of steam there at the end," he said. "As a coaching staff we've got to force our way into playing some kids in the first half. That's how you build depth. But when you're in a real close ball game, though, sometimesthat's hard to do."

Last year's loss to Louisville sent the team on a downward spiral that resulted in a 2-9 finish, but both Morriss and the players say they're ready to stay the course this time around.

"I think they're disappointed, but I don't think they're devastated to the point where they'll throw in the towel on the season by any means," Morriss said.

Tight end Derek Smith, one of several players who went to UK Athletics Director Larry Ivy and lobbied for Morriss to become the head coach, said it's now gut-check time for him and his teammates.

"It's frustrating because we've worked so hard, and we really felt like we should have beaten Louisville," Smith said. "Now we've got to see if some guys are going to let what happened last year happen again or are they going to come back on Sunday, get to work, and get the attitude back that we used to have around here."

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