Louisville's high-powered offense has multiple ways to carve up the Cats

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 10, 2013 

  • Louisville at Kentucky

    When: Noon Saturday | TV: ESPN

    Records: Louisville 2-0; Kentucky 1-1

Just in time for the game against Kentucky, Charlie Strong issued a challenge to his trio of running backs:

"No one has really just stepped up and taken the job yet, so when that happens, then you can say, 'Here it is. You've taken it. Here it is, now go run with it,'" the Louisville football coach said Monday.

"That's what we're waiting on: Someone to just step up and go."

Just what Kentucky's defense needs: for one of the nation's most prolific offenses to develop yet another weapon before Saturday's rivalry game.

After a reporter pointed out that Louisville was held to 78 yards on the ground by Eastern Kentucky last week, UK Coach Mark Stoops scoffed.

"You're loading up and picking your poison," he said of defending the Cardinals. "They put you in a run/pass conflict all the time. Again, they're good at what they do."

In two games this season, Louisville is averaging 46.5 points and 545 yards. The Cardinals have scored on 65 percent of their 23 drives — 12 touchdowns and three field goals. Nearly half of those drives were 70 yards or more.

They have punted just five times for a reason, UK's coaches said.

"They are a very multiple offense," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot stressed on Tuesday. "You've got to make sure that you're sound in everything you do within your game plan, because you're going to get a lot of different looks."

The offense starts with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. This season, he's well on his way to those video game-type numbers: 752 yards and nine TDs.

And that's with some considerable rest at the end of two blowouts.

In all, Louisville has thrown for 406 yards a game and completed 73.8 percent of its passes with 10 touchdowns.

"He's very cool, and he's got a very live arm and he can make any throw," Stoops said of Bridgewater. "You could just see the confidence in him the more he's played."

He's the spark that ignites an explosive Cardinals offense.

"They're very good all around him, and they have a strong line," Stoops said of the nation's 16th-best scoring offense. "They have great backs. They have good wide receivers — I mean great wide receivers. So they really are. They're very talented across the board."

Louisville's passing game is fifth-best in the nation. Bridgewater has connected with eight or more receivers in each game this season. His favorite targets include DeVante Parker (nine catches, 207 yards and three scores) and Damian Copeland (nine catches for 130 yards and three TDs).

They will be up against a young UK secondary that was torched for 271 yards in the season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. Stoops is more comfortable at that spot with Cody Quinn returning from injury and junior-college transfer Nate Willis getting up to speed.

He acknowledged they'll have a "big test this week."

"But I do feel like we're getting better in the secondary. The guys are working much harder."

The Cardinals can challenge opposing defenses in multiple ways.

"They put you on an island at times with some very good wide receivers and you've got to step up and play," Stoops said.

The Cardinals put on extra pressure with a running game that has the potential to catch fire. Senorise Perry (704 yards last season) is coming on after his injury last season. Add in an improving Dominique Brown and transfer Michael Dyer (a journeyman transfer who starred at Auburn), and the Cats will have their hands full.

"They run it. They threaten you with their run game, and they love taking their shots and their play actions off it because they're very skilled at wide receiver, and Bridgewater does a heck of a job with the play fakes and getting the ball down the field," Stoops said.

"They do a nice job of keeping you off balance."


Saturday

Louisville at Kentucky

When: Noon

TV: ESPN

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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