Cardinals Success Starts With Defense

The University of Louisville’s football program has mainly been associated with high-scoring offenses and top-flight quarterbacks. It’s never been considered a program that plays great defense.

Know this, though: Louisville can play defense.

Under head coach Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, the Cardinals have been one of the top tier defenses in the country the last two seasons.

Playing with a young squad and not much depth, the Cardinals finished 2010 ranked 14th in total defense, 18th in scoring defense and ninth against the pass. Louisville stymied the opposition by scheming the opposition and using constant pressure to give the quarterbacks all kinds of problems.

In eight games this season, no team has scored more than three touchdowns against the Cardinals. Six of the eight have scored two or fewer. Louisville and Alabama are the only two schools in the country that haven’t allowed more than 25 points in a game this season.

Louisville ranks No. 12 in the country in total defense and No. 11 in points allowed. Louisville is also 12th in stopping the run.

“They’re an attacking defense, but they’re sound. It’s hard to move the ball on them,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said on this week’s match-up against the Cardinals. “It always starts up front. They’ve got D-linemen that are physical and their linebackers are enormous and cover a lot of space.

“They’re young. They play a lot of freshmen on both offense and defense. But that’s scary because the more you play freshmen, the better they’re going to get.”

The Cardinals haven’t faced a prolific passing team this season, but will get their opportunity on Saturday when the Cardinals face a West Virginia offense that is ranked 13th in the country. The Cardinals will have their hands full with quarterback Geno Smith and a number of talented and speedy wide receivers.

U of L senior linebacker Dexter Heyman knows his defensive unit will face its biggest challenge all season.

“In terms of the passing offense, West Virginia will be the best we have faced all season,” said Heyman. “You talk about arguably the best quarterback in the conference in (Geno) Smith. One thing they do is they throw the ball well particularly downfield. You talk about two big play threats on the outside in Tavon Austin and (Stedman) Bailey. They have big play momentum. It is going to be a real test, especially for our secondary. I think they are up for the challenge. You talk about corners like Andrew Johnson and Adrian Bushell, who I really feel are coming along this year. Also, Terell Floyd. Those are going to have a really big-time challenge in front of them, but it is nothing I don’t think they can’t handle.”

West Virginia averages 127 rushing yards and 355 passing, so something has to give.

“It’s so tough. Just from watching them, it’s going to be hard to do,” Strong said of containing WVU’s offense. “[WVU quarterback] Geno Smith is an unbelievable player and he does a great job with the tempo and managing the game. He’s getting the ball to [Stedman] Bailey and [Tavon] Austin and they’re making the catches and getting downfield.”

West Virginia put up 41 points in the win over Rutgers on Saturday and registered over 450 yards of offense against top-ranked LSU earlier this season. If the Cardinals are going to garner their third-straight win this Saturday against West Virginia, the defense must answer the bell again like it has done all season.

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