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 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -Inexplicable defensive collapses. Confounding penalties. Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe has seen it before - while playing as a kid in junior high.
Kragthorpe, however, didn't expect to see the same things during his first season in the Big East, with a team that began the year with national title aspirations.
Yet after consecutive losses - including an embarrassing 38-35 debacle against Syracuse on Saturday - dropped the Cardinals from the top 10 to out of the polls in all of two weeks, Kragthorpe finds himself searching for answers on how it went so wrong so fast.
``I'm as upset as anybody could ever be because I'm responsible for this operation,'' Kragthorpe said. ``We're going to continue to work hard and find a way to put us in a position where we can be successful and find a way to get it done.''
Kragthorpe shouldered the responsibility after his defense allowed one of the nation's worst offenses to put up 38 points and 465 yards. He repeatedly said ``put it on me'' during his postgame press conference, and reiterated the point on Sunday.
``All players have to step up, all coaches have to step up,'' he said. ``We're in a situation where we have to respond in a positive manner.''
Though the Cardinals (2-2, 0-1 Big East) and quarterback Brian Brohm have retained the high-powered offense that became their trademark under former coach Bobby Petrino, they have lacked the precision and perhaps the passion that Petrino brought to the sidelines in the four years he pushed the Cardinals onto the national stage.
Kragthorpe said he isn't running a ``happiness camp,'' but he is considered more player-friendly than Petrino. Where Petrino was fiery on the sidelines, Kragthorpe is more serene. Following a last-second loss to rival Kentucky on Sept. 15, Kragthorpe simply told his players to go to work, no chalkboard slamming necessary.
Yet as the Cardinals took the field against the Orange, they acknowledged there was a noticeable lack of emotion.
``I could kind of feel that we weren't ready to play,'' center Eric Wood said.
The Cardinals certainly looked it early, allowing Syracuse to take an 7-0 lead on a 79-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. The play was nearly identical to the one Kentucky ran in the final minute to stun the Cardinals.
Kragthorpe laid some of the blame on an inexperienced secondary that's trying to replace three starters from a year ago. Yet a week of intense focus and some personnel changes ended with the same result: the Cardinals looking clueless as opponents ran free in the secondary.
``You've got to trust your eyes,'' Kragthorpe said. ``We can not get the ball thrown over our head.''
It's a lesson the Cardinals have yet to learn. They're ranked 90th in the country in total defense and 104th against the pass. Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns and averaged nearly 25 yards a completion.
``There's all of it - anger, frustration, shock, but you know, we hold ourselves accountable,'' said defensive end Earl Heyman. ``Coaches don't miss tackles. Coaches don't miss assignments. Coaches coach. Players miss tackles. Players miss assignments. We need to work on those things.''
The Cardinals will need to work on it quickly if they want to salvage any of their preseason goals. The national championship is gone. A second straight Big East title would mean finding a way to win games at No. 5 West Virginia, No. 18 South Florida and No. 24 Cincinnati and at home against No. 10 Rutgers.
Though Kragthorpe pointed out the Cardinals lost their first two conference games in 2005 and managed to make it to a New Year's Day bowl, this isn't the Big East conference of two years ago. The conference is deeper now, and the miscues like the four turnovers and 12 penalties the Cardinals committed against the Orange can't happen if Louisville wants to get back on its feet.
``Those personal fouls are selfish penalties and they need to end,'' Wood said. ``They're drive killers and they're drive extenders ... so they need to end if we're going to have a successful season.''
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