LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Heading into Saturday's showdown against USF, there was very little doubt that the Louisville football program would not come out with a victory. Despite the Cardinals' struggles to start the year, and the Bulls' near-upset of Florida the week before, this was still a matchup where the talent disparity clearly favored Louisville.
That being said, there was a blueprint for a potential upset bid at Cardinal Stadium. USF was one of the better teams in the nation at running the football, whereas Louisville's run defense to start the year was one of the worst in the FBS. If the Bulls were going to shock the Cardinals, this how they were going to do it.
Instead, the exact opposite came to pass. Louisville's front seven set the tone early with their best performance of the season, flying to the ball and limiting missed tackles. It was arguably the primary catalyst for what ended up being a 41-3 blowout win Saturday.
"We have a lot of respect for South Florida, Coach (Jeff) Scott and his team, what they did last week down in the Swamp really handled Florida I thought," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "Think about how their running back had 150 yards, their quarterback rushed for over 100. We wanted to come in here and stop the run and make them one dimensional."
As Satterfield alluded to, USF was coming off of a tremendous rushing performance against Florida on the road. The Bulls ran for a whopping 286 yards against the Gators, while simultaneously limiting UF to 48 offensive plays in the process. This game plan nearly paid off, as USF ultimately fell short, 31-28, thanks to a paid of busted plays on the final drive.
Add in their 107 rushing yards against then-No. 15 BYU to open the season, as well as their 205 rushing yards against FCS foe Howard, and the Bulls were averaging 204.0 rushing yards per game. This mark was good for 41st in all of FBS.
Louisville held this prolific rushing attack to just 48 yards on 35 attempts. Take away a 37-yard pickup by backup running back K'wan Powell late in the third quarter, at a time where the Cardinals were already up 31-0, and it very easily could have been much less than that.
Starting running back Brian Battie, who was coming off of a 150-yard performance against Florida, had just 26. Dual threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon had negative-three yards after putting up 102 against the Gators. Louisville did a tremendous job at successfully applying pressure early in the game, and USF never truly could get their offensive footing.
“It was huge," outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah Said. "Once we got back there in the backend, they did their job as well, in picks and turnovers. That’s what we need, just straight pressure.
“Going into the whole week, we locked in, no playing around," Abdullah continued. "Everybody's focused through the first two days of practice, to the walk throughs, and then to the run throughs, everybody was locked in.”
The enhanced preparation throughout the week certainly made itself apparent during the game. The energy shown by all areas of the defense, especially in the front seven, was the highest it had been all season. It resulted in nine tackles for loss, including two each from defensive end YaYa Diaby and middle linebacker Dorian Jones, as well as a recovered fumble.
Louisville's improved run defense forced USF to try and go to their passing game more often, and the Cardinals were able to snuff that out as well. Bohanon was just 9-of-17 for 62 yards while throwing two interceptions, with Louisville tallying three sacks and four quarterback hits in the process. It was complimentary football at its finest.
"I was literally looking across (the line of scrimmage), just looking in (Bohanon's) eyes. I could tell he was scared," Diaby said. "It just made me want to get there even more."
Of course, at the end of the day, this performance did come against a team that Louisville was expected to beat. That being said, it's also exactly the kind of performance the Cardinals can build upon if they want to continue getting better and more confident as the season goes on.
"We're just taking it game-by-game," Diaby said. "Just pushing each other in practicing, and just having that eagerness. This is not just one win, we just gotta keep adding on to the win (total), and we're gonna have a successful in the season."
Louisville will get their next opportunity to build defensive momentum when they hit the road and take on Boston College this weekend. Kickoff against the Eagles is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:00 p.m. EST.
(Photo via Jared Anderson: State of Louisville/Louisville Report)
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