LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville has put its early struggles on defense in its rearview mirror.
The Cardinals have regained their defensive swagger, evolving into a stingy and opportunistic group. Louisville wants to keep that momentum going Saturday against a Syracuse team desperate to end a five-game skid.
Since starting 0-3, Louisville (4-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won four of five with defense keying consecutive wins over Boston College and Wake Forest by a total of four points. The Cardinals have allowed just 345 combined yards in those games and rank 16th nationally at 309.3 per contest.
''I think it's just a matter of guys continuing to play, continuing to work,'' Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. ''I think we've done a good job of sticking together, working hard and our leaders have done a good job of making sure we stay the course and keep our focus.''
Louisville's focus has been especially evident through an improved pass rush.
After getting just three in as many contests, the Cardinals have made 21 sacks since, including 12 the past two games. They're also forcing more turnovers, earning five second-half takeaways last week to help preserve a 20-19 victory at Wake Forest.
''We're just running to the ball better,'' said Louisville outside linebacker Devonte Fields, who had eight tackles last week.
The Cardinals' mission is maintaining that approach against the Orange (3-5, 1-3) and containing dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey. The freshman has thrown for 11 of his 16 touchdowns this season and ranks 10th in the ACC in passing with 1,140 yards.
''Every week we continue to see that growth, so I'm excited about where he is and where he's headed,'' Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said of Dungey.
Syracuse has lost four of five in the series including 28-6 last year at home. It's also coming off a 45-21 loss at No. 17 Florida State that leaves fewer opportunities to gain a postseason bid.
The Orange still believe a bowl is possible but know that depends on seizing chances. The hard part is finding them against a Louisville defense that's not in a giving mood right now.
''You don't get ranked 16th in total defense for nothing,'' Orange offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. ''It will be a challenge for sure.''
Some other things to watch when Syracuse visits Louisville:
TREVON'S TEAR: Louisville junior linebacker Trevon Young recorded three sacks for the second straight week to win ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors. His nine sacks are tied for seventh nationally, with eight coming in the last three contests.
RETURN THREAT: Syracuse junior WR Brisly Estime has returned two punts for touchdowns, including a 59-yarder last week against Florida State. He's the first Orange player with multiple punt-return TDs in 18 years and his 20.7-yard average ranks second nationally.
STAPLES' BREAKOUT: Junior receiver Jamari Staples is coming off his best game with the Cardinals, catching 10 passes for 133 yards and two TDs. He has 229 yards the past two weeks, helping provide another target for Louisville's air game after he missed the first four games with a knee injury.
ORANGE INJURIES: Syracuse will be without LB Parris Bennett and DE Luke Arciniega (upper body injuries), while WR Sean Avant and CB Cory Winfield are out with lower-body injuries. Bennett is second on the team with 44 tackles, while Arciniega has four sacks.
DUMERVIL HONORED: Former Cardinals defensive star Elvis Dumervil will have his No. 58 jersey honored at halftime. Dumervil played for Louisville from 2002-05, ranks second all-time with 32 sacks and was the program's first winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. He's now with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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