In last Sunday’s season-opening win, the Louisville defense faced a foe that played an up-tempo, no-huddle offense for much of the game. Despite scoring only twice, Kentucky managed more yardage and production than what the Cardinals’ coaching staff would like to see. If Missouri State’s opening game at Kansas State is any indication, 23rd-ranked Louisville will get another chance to defend an up-tempo offense in Saturday’s matchup with the Bears.
“Against Kansas State, they threw the ball 51 times,” said Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. “They tried to spread them out so they could identify what the coverages were and where the blitzes were coming from. It was a lot of what we saw from Kentucky, so we expect to see some of the same things this week. They might run the ball a little more, but it’s going to be a lot of quick passes again.”
UK also threw it more than 50 times last weekend against the Cardinals. Despite such a high number of passing attempts, Bedford was not happy with the pressure or take-away chances generated by his squad in the opener and he expects that to improve.
“When they throw the ball 51 times and you have no interceptions, that’s not what you want to be,” said Bedford following Wednesday’s practice session. “When they throw it 51 times, you expect to get at least three interceptions and we got none, so that’s disappointing. We only had two sacks out of 51 throws and that’s disappointing, so we need to get better in those particular areas.”
Missouri State is directed by junior quarterback Ashton Glaser, a transfer from Missouri. In his first start for the Bears in their season-opening loss to Kansas State, Glaser used the up-tempo style to throw for 257 yards on 22-of-44 passing and one interception. For Louisville, the first and most important step in defending what they will see on Saturday is simply getting into position.
“They run a lot of no-huddle, hurry-up offense. They get on the ball and run quick routes to try and nickel and dime you like Kentucky did,” said junior linebacker Preston Brown. “The hardest part is getting the people in the game lined up. I have to get the call to the D-line so they can get lined up and then I worry about what I have to do.”
Whether Missouri State goes to the air or to the ground, one of the top play-makers in the Cardinals’ defensive unit is junior safety Hakeem Smith. A two-time All-BIG EAST selection, Smith led Louisville with 10 tackles against the Wildcats and was tied for second on the team last season with 84. He has a nose for the football while serving as one of Louisville’s last lines of defense.
“We only gave up one big play (last week),” said Bedford. “When you don’t give up many big plays, you’re doing something right and I’m good to go with that. A lot of times when we play man-to-man, he’s the guy around the box. That’s why he’s been all-conference for two years because he’s around the box making plays in the running game. Hopefully, he’ll continue to play the way he has the last two seasons.”
One way for Bedford and the Louisville coaches to maintain pressure and pursuit against a no-huddle offense is by using numerous players, especially on the defensive line. The Cardinals displayed a lot of depth in the win over Kentucky and expect to see that same formula along the defensive front on Saturday.
“It’s great when you have depth,” said Bedford. “We were able to get guys in (against UK) and keep them fresh. We finally got a sack in the fourth quarter with a four-man rush because we did rotate guys in. When they’re throwing the ball 51 times and not substituting offensive linemen, they get tired. A lot times, it’s the fourth quarter when you start making plays because of the depth.”