Following a day off from the practice fields on Monday, No. 16 Louisville returned to action during its first bye week of the season on Tuesday afternoon. As an unbeaten team and off to the program’s best start since 2006, the Cardinals have gained a lot of national attention, especially on offense. With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leading the passing game, and running backs Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright leading the rushing attack, Louisville has exhibited an impressive run-pass balance during its 5-0 start.
“A 50-50 split is a perfect world, but you’re probably going to be 60-40 (run-pass) in the real world,” Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told reporters following Tuesday’s practice session. “A lot of it has to do with saving wins. What we do is throw out the four-minute situations and look at what we are when we’re on the field in normal situations and we’re 50-50. If you have a game like last week (at Southern Miss) where it’s a quagmire, you don’t even put that in there. When we’re not in the four-minute, we’re pretty good and we’re 50-50.”
The expectations from the coaching staff for a balanced offensive attack is no surprise to the Louisville players. Watson and head coach Charlie Strong have made it clear numerous times that a key to their offensive success is getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers. In the passing the game, that starts with Bridgewater and his distribution of the ball to the Cardinals’ talented and deep receiving corps. In the rushing game, it begins with Louisville’s 1-2 punch of Perry and Wright, who have combined for 847 yards on 170 carries (4.9 yards per rush) and 10 touchdowns in five games.
“We expect our offense to be balanced,” said Wright. “Senorise and I have been competing in practice and go about our business in practice the same way. We never take plays off and thrive to be the best each and every day. Senorise and I take an equal amount of reps, and we just work it out that way.”
With heavy rain and standing water forcing the Cardinals to emphasize the running game even more last Saturday at Southern Mississippi, Perry and Wright were asked to carry even more of the load on offense for Louisville. The duo responded as Perry led the way with 118 yards rushing on 22 carries and two touchdowns, while Wright added 84 yards on 20 carries in the Cardinals’ 21-17 victory in Hattiesburg.
“They did a great job of holding on to the football and staying aggressive with the run,” said Watson. “They really ran the ball downhill and in that kind of game, that’s what you needed to do. Senorise in particular was very impressive and Jeremy had his spots too. Senorise found some nice inside seams and made some really good runs.”
The weather conditions and standing water on the field at Southern Miss was unlike anything most people around the Louisville football program had ever seen before. That led to a much more conservative game than expected as the two teams combined for only 23 passing attempts in the 121 offensive plays. For the Cardinals, the opening drive was the only time all night they were able to execute their offensive game plan as they marched 68 yards on seven plays (including 5-for-5 passing) for a touchdown before the heavy rain arrived. After that, the goal was simply to move the ball and win the game.
“The first drive was like us,” Watson explained. “(The weather) was manageable at that time. We had a number of plays and we had good balance. We were running our offense. Then, somewhere after the second series, Charlie said it was getting really bad down there. Teddy was telling me it was hard to hang on to the ball. And it never stopped. It was one of those days you just have to adjust to the conditions and find a way to win it.”