LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Right out of the gates, Louisville football's defense was presented with a challenge. In their first game of the 2021 season, the Cardinals had the tall task of trying to contain the high-flying offense of Ole Miss - a unit which currently ranks No. 4 in the nation in total offense through the first two games of the season (599.5 YPG).
12 days later, things won't exactly get any easier for the defense. Less than two weeks after suffering a season-opening 43-24 loss to the Rebels, with a 30-3 win over EKU in between, Louisville will have another prolific offensive attack to deal with in UCF.
Through two games, the Knights have actually one-upped the Rebels in the yardage department, averaging a whopping 622 yards of offense in their games against Boise State and Bethune-Cookman. Both utilize a fast-tempo spread offense, and Louisville is hoping to learn how to combat it after having already faced it once before.
"You look at Central Florida, they move really fast and are not worried about trying to get the best play like some teams, they run fast plays and hope to catch the defense not lined up," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "Hopefully we learned some things to do good and correct for the Ole Miss game."
Like with Ole Miss, UCF also has a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate under center that has complete command of the offense. A year after throwing for 3,570 yards and 32 touchdowns, left-handed quarterback Dillon Gabriel is off to a good start in 2021, completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 630 yards and six touchdowns to two picks.
"Dillon is similar (to Ole Miss QB Matt Corral) to a certain extent, and Dillon is a veteran quarterback that's seen a lot," defensive coordinator Bryan Brown said. He's very poised in the pocket, he does scramble to throw the football as well, and he will pull the football down and run - just like Matt will."
Although UCF head coach Gus Malzahn does like to run the ball more often than not, the Knights also have a run game that is slightly underrated compared to the passing game. After losing their top three running backs from last season, senior transfer Isaiah Bowser came from seemingly nowhere, already putting up 234 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's a big kid that can freakin' run down hill," Brown said. "He does a really good job in their zone schemes, and even some of that counter and power things. He's a veteran guy that came from Northwestern, has played a lot of football. He knows how to read defenses, and how to read the D-line on certain schemes."
On top of getting more familiar with the pace that UCF will play at, the game against Ole Miss also helped the defense settle in, focus on their assignment and not try and take in too much at once, and quite simply, execute.
"I think that's going to help us right there, going from game one to game number three,"Brown said. "I think we made strides in that last week, even with EKU trying to go fast a couple of times. That helped us."
Kickoff against UCF is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. EST.
(Photo of Dillon Gabriel: Mike Watters - USA TODAY Sports)
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