LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Through the first two games of the season, Louisville's offense was not exactly firing on all cylinders. They had a pair of slow starts against Ole Miss and Eastern Kentucky, as they struggled to move down the field and sustain drives.
While a lot of factors came into play, the crux of the offensive stagnation revolved around the play of the offensive line. More often than not, quarterback Malik Cunningham was not given a clear pocket, and lanes for the running backs closed way too fast - or ceased to exist at all.
However, there was hope for improvement. Very rarely did all five lineman have a missed assignment all at once, but typically, just one player would blow his protection and cause the play to blow up. The problem was that this was happening with far too much regularity.
But when UCF came to town last Friday night, a switch had flipped. Cunningham not only had the time to go through his reads and open up the passing game, but both him and the running backs were able to run it down the Knights' throat. UCF had only allowed an average of 22.0 rushing yards per game up to that point, and the Cardinals put up 191.
This was no coincidence. Despite being on a short week, the players in the offense line room made a concerted effort to be more prepared for game day - and it worked.
"We were really focused. We just didn't rush into the game, we felt like we were prepared better as a unit, we had studied more film," center Cole Bentley said. "We knew we needed to buckle down and get it, and I think that's what happened."
The line's play not only been largely disjointed through the first two games of the season because of the lack of cohesion, but also disappointing because of the lack of noticeable push. But against UCF, all that mostly went out the window, and Bentley notes that "everything was clicking" for the line.
"No matter who it was that was in there, we were just all playing good, playing the way we were supposed to play," he said. "Just as a unit, we were moving the ball and doing what we're supposed to do."
Now, the key moving forward will be carrying this effort throughout the rest of the season, and making sure it was not a one-off performance - especially with their ACC opener with Florida State on the horizon. But if you ask Bentley, he knew the line was always going to be in good hands, they just simply needed a reminder of what they were capable of.
"In the first two games we underperformed, but then having something like that reminds you that you are going to be good, and everything's gonna be okay," he said. "All the hard work you put in, it's gonna pay off. It's just a little reminder that we just got to keep at it."
Kickoff at FSU is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. EST.
(Photo of Jalen Mitchell: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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