When No. 14 Louisville (6-0, 1-0) returns to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium this Saturday for their first home game in 35 days, they will do it against a talented USF squad desperate for a win. The Bulls (2-4, 0-2) were picked second in the preseason BIG EAST poll by the league’s coaches and were considered by some as a favorite to win the conference title in 2012. However, the first half of the season has been difficult for USF, which has lost four straight games overall after opening the season with wins over Chattanooga and Nevada. The Bulls have a familiar look to them for Louisville players entering this week’s Homecoming game.
“(They are) just like we were last year, 2-4,” said Cardinals’ senior left tackle Alex Kupper during Monday’s weekly press conference. “They are fighting for their lives right now. They saw how we turned it around. There’s still hope there. They have 25 seniors. They’ve got a bunch of guys who have played awhile. They have a lot of talent. They know all it takes is one game to turn the season around. We have to be prepared for that.”
USF is consistently among the most talented and athletic teams in the BIG EAST Conference. Led by third year head coach Skip Holtz, the Bulls’ roster is comprised almost exclusively with players from the talent rich state of Florida. That talent includes athletic playmakers on defense like junior linebacker DeDe Lattimore (team-leading 47 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss) and senior linebackers Michael Lanaris (40 tackles) and Sam Barrington (40 tackles, 3.0 TFL).
“They have speed all over the field top to bottom,” Kupper said. “Even their interior guys are pretty quick off of the ball. It’s always a challenge playing them. Their linebackers can move pretty well. It’s just a challenge we have to be ready for.”
One of the ways for Louisville’s offense to attack USF’s athleticism is by running the football. The Cardinals’ rushing attack is the foundation for their offense and has been a key ingredient to the unbeaten start this season. With juniors Senorise Perry (559 yds, 5.8 yds per rush, nine touchdowns) and Jeremy Wright (450 yds, 4.7 yds per rush, six touchdowns) pacing the running game, sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (71.8 completion percentage, 239.7 yds per game, nine touchdowns) has taken advantage of the opportunities to attack opponents through the air.
“The running game is so critical to our offense, which is run and pass,” said Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. “We are a play-action bootleg team when we try to get the ball down the field. In order for Teddy to have the games that he is having, we have to be able to run the football. As I said earlier, we are playing well on the offensive line and with our two running backs. If you look at the start of the third quarter (against Pitt last Saturday), we had such a good play-action with Teddy hiding the ball; they thought we were coming with the Iso (Isolation), and DeVante double-moves the defensive back and he is off to the races.”
Whether it’s running lanes for Perry and Wright or time to look down field for Bridgewater, the entire offense starts with good blocking up front from Louisville’s offensive line. Led by Kupper, who Strong called the Cardinals’ best offensive lineman, the blockers up front have helped Louisville remain balanced in its attack while also showing considerable improvement statistically from last year. After averaging 333 yards of total offense per game in 2011, the Cardinals have averaged more than 409 yards per outing in their six straight wins this season.
“Coach Borbes (Dave Borbely) has done a great job,” Strong said. “We started with Jamon (Brown), Jake Smith, Mario (Benavides), (John) Miller, and Kup (Alex Kupper). We lose Miller in one game and try to piece the line together by putting Kamran Joyer in there, who has played extremely well. We continue to put different guys in because we have 7-8 offensive linemen. Coach Borbes gets them prepared and we just take it game by game. Our system is not that complicated and our guys know just to get a hat on a defender and move them out of the way.”
Game Information: Louisville (6-0, 1-0) vs. USF (2-4, 0-2)
When: Oct. 20, 2012 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000), Louisville, Ky.
TV: ABC Regional – Mark Neeley (p-x-p) & Ray Bentley (analyst) will broadcast the game live.
Radio: The Louisville Sports Radio Network with Paul Rogers (p-x-p), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline) calling the action
Series Record: USF leads 5-4
In Louisville: UofL leads 3-1
Last Meeting: Louisville 34, USF 24 – 2011 in Tampa, Fla.
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 14th in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and 16th in the latest AP Top 25; USF is unranked.