Defensively, No. 19 Louisville will face another up-tempo, no-huddle challenge on Saturday when North Carolina visits Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Though the Tar Heels may not have the same style of offense when the ball is snapped as what the Cardinals have seen in the first weeks of the season, they will play with a similar pace and do many of the same pre-snap movements as both Kentucky and Missouri State.
“It’s really a lot like the first two games because they have a fast tempo and they like to pass the ball around a lot,” said Cardinals’ sophomore safety Calvin Pryor. “They do like to run the ball more because they have some big linemen and big backs. I think they will try to run the ball, but it will be a fast tempo like we’ve seen the last two weeks.”
Having seen the up-tempo, no-huddle style in each of the first two games, Louisville players have gained ample experience at defending the challenging pace.
“It’s very difficult, but when you’ve gone against for two weeks against other opponents, it does get easier because you know what you’re looking for,” Pryor told reporters on Wednesday. “We just have to be ready to play from the start.”
The Tar Heels are directed by junior quarterback Bryn Renner, who has passed for 507 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the first two games of 2012. Last season, Renner was 12-for-18 for 178 yards passing and one touchdown while being sacked four times in North Carolina’s 14-7 win over Louisville in Chapel Hill.
“Last year, we pressured him a lot and we’re going to look to do the same thing,” said Pryor. “Once he sees pressure, he’ll either try to get the ball out quick or he’ll try to scramble. That’s what we really want to do because we want to get him out of the pocket. If we let him just sit in the pocket, he’ll just pass the ball all day.”
One of the key weapons for Renner and the UNC passing attack is senior receiver Erik Highsmith, who has a team-high eight catches for 115 yards in two games. He is one of several tall, athletic receiving options for the Tar Heels who will challenge the Louisville defense.
“It doesn’t affect us really because we go against tall guys out here every day in practice,” said Pryor in reference to competing against tall receivers. “We just know that we have to use our technique and that should take care of everything.”
On the ground, the Tar Heels have three talented rushers in sophomores A.J. Blue and Giovani Bernard and redshirt freshman Romar Morris. Blue leads UNC with 145 yards rushing and three touchdowns in two games, while Morris has 119 yards and one score. Bernard rushed for 93 yards and a score in their opener, but missed last week’s one-point loss to Wake Forest with an injury. He has practiced this week and could return to action against the Cardinals on Saturday.
“They have two outstanding running backs in (A.J.) Blue and Giovani Bernard, so they like to run the ball and get downhill,” said Cardinals’ head coach Charlie Strong. “They use the zone-read play and open up the holes to let their backs cut it back. Their offensive line is big and is probably one of the biggest teams we will play. They are very athletic and do a great job pulling on run plays.”