Cardinals' defense faces tough test at North Carolina State
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Holding a FCS opponent to a field goal at home is one thing. Shutting down a conference opponent on the road is another, which is the challenge facing Louisville's defense at unbeaten North Carolina State.
Beating the Wolfpack (4-0, 0-0) in Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference matchup means disrupting fifth-year senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett's rhythm. Considering he has completed 78 percent of his throws to lead the nation makes that a tall order.
''Their quarterback has made good decisions,'' Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said Monday of Brissett. ''He hasn't thrown an interception in 170-some passes.''
Make that 179 attempts to be exact for Brissett, who was last picked off during North Carolina State's last loss - to eventual Orange Bowl winners Georgia Tech - almost 11 months ago. That followed his 2014 streak of 187 passes without an interception, the seventh-longest stretch in ACC history.
Brissett just doesn't give it up to opponents.
On the other hand, Louisville's defense presents its own challenge with a nation-leading streak of 17 straight games with an interception. The Cardinals (1-3, 0-1) have nine interceptions after leading the nation last season with 26 picks, including a school-record 14 by Jim Thorpe Award-winning safety Gerod Holliman.
Brissett knows something has to give.
''I know they're going to come out feisty,'' said Brissett, who transferred from Florida after his sophomore year. ''They're all ball hawks on their defense. They come out and play, they're very athletic, a really good group defensively. And I know their coaches are going to get them ready to play. They're going to have a scheme we've never seen, but it's our job to stay true to what we do.''
Louisville defensive players seek the same goal after stifling Samford in last week's 45-3 victory, their first after three tough losses. The Cardinals replaced Holliman and three other starters in the secondary, but players such as sophomores Chucky Williams and Trumaine Washington and junior transfer Josh Harvey-Clemons have been just as opportunistic with two interceptions each.
Burgess knows the Cardinals will have their work cut out for them against the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Brissett, who he said ''doesn't like to go down.'' He recalled missing two tackles on the QB in Louisville's 30-18 home win over N.C. State last year as proof of his elusiveness, but added that Brissett won't be Louisville's sole focus.
''Pass defense is very important, but first thing is you gotta stop the run,'' Burgess said. ''We pride ourselves on stopping the run.''
Petrino said North Carolina State's ground game, which is averaging 259 yards per contest, has help boost Brissett's accuracy by limiting third-and-long situations and allowing the Wolfpack to play with a lead. Brissett has also benefited from another year in coach Dave Doeren's system.
''I thought last year, that as the year went on, he got better and better each game,'' Petrino said. ''Now he's in the same offense for the second year in a row. He's more precise with his decision-making.''
Petrino hopes his defense guesses right defending Brissett and the Wolfpack. Louisville had chances against No. 11 Clemson by holding the Tigers to 20 points in their ACC opener two weeks ago, but couldn't complete the upset in the three-point loss that went down to the final minutes.
The Louisville coach foresees a similar finish Saturday, which depends on his defense getting takeaways against a team and QB that aren't generous.
''They've been taking care of the football, they've been running it physically and playing good defense,'' Petrino said of the Wolfpack. ''I think it's probably going to be one of those games that comes down to being able to execute and make plays in the fourth quarter.''