Louisville's second-ranked defense is working on finishing games.
Junior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin said that was the No. 20 Cardinals' main focus during their second bye week as they prepared to visit winless Connecticut on Friday night.
Louisville (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) has finally moved past the crushing 38-35 loss to Central Florida on Oct. 18 in which it squandered a 21-point lead in less than eight minutes.
Coach Charlie Strong says if the Cardinals want to keep their conference and BCS bowl hopes alive they must stay aggressive the entire game. Mauldin says, "We haven't played a complete game yet."
The Cardinals rebounded after the UCF loss, holding South Florida to 133 total yards in a 34-3 victory Oct. 26 that gave them something to build on.
Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford points out that getting past the disappointing defeat wasn't easy.
"We dragged around for about three or four days after that loss," he said. "What we told them is this: 'Don't let that game beat you twice. Let's get back to who we are.' ... They were back to having fun."
Louisville enters allowing 244.5 yards per game, 34.3 more than first-place Michigan State. The Cardinals are also second in scoring defense, giving up an average of 10.6 points to sit behind top-ranked Alabama (9.8).
The victory over USF not only helped them regroup, but Mauldin said it sent a message that the Cardinals are trying hard to remember entering the stretch run.
"We really needed that one," said Mauldin, second on the team with seven sacks. "I know there's a lot of people out there saying that we didn't play up to our ability against UCF. We had to put our statement back out there, basically saying we needed to beat USF to get back on track."
Sophomore cornerback Jermaine Reve called the win a defining moment for the unit.
"That loss, it allowed us to check ourselves," he said. "We didn't want to have that feeling again because we really had that game in our hands. Once that happened, we were disappointed as players because we have high expectations.
"It really allowed us to get that, not so much arrogance, (but) that deep confidence that no one can do anything against our defense."
Louisville will face stiffer tests over the remaining four games, including Houston on Nov. 16. The Cougars beat USF 35-23 on Oct. 31 to keep pace with UCF atop the standings.
In the season finale on Dec. 5 at Cincinnati, the Cardinals must stop the AAC's best ground game. On the other hand, Louisville ranks third in the country with 164.0 passing yards allowed per game and is second in rushing defense at 80.5 yards per outing.
Mauldin said there's room for improvement, especially with the Cardinals struggling to get to the quarterback the past two games. Bedford is confident that can be corrected.
"When the ball is in the air, I want them to have the attitude that the ball is our ball," Bedford said. "I need more guys to feel that way. ... When we get that mindset, I'll be ready to say I'm excited."
The defense has a good chance to improve against Connecticut (0-7, 0-3), which hasn't played since a 62-17 loss at UCF on Oct. 26.
The Huskies are last in the AAC in rushing offense (76.3) and second-to-last in total offense (293.3) and scoring offense (16.4). They've lost eight in a row dating to last season.
"It's hard to say we're deficient. We've got some weapons. I'm not going to say it's a lack of talent," interim coach T.J. Weist said. "We'd like more depth, more explosiveness in certain areas, but we have talent. We've got to keep pushing to find answers."
UConn won 23-20 in three overtimes at No. 19 Louisville last season for its last victory.
"Last year's game doesn't mean anything because it's last year," Weist said. "It's nice that they won, but that wasn't this year. It sure gives you confidence, but it's going to be a whole new game Friday night.
"Any big game you go into, it comes down to momentum and making plays. We have to make catches and make throws and put it all together during drives. We've looked at last year's film, but we're not focusing on it. We're starting over this Friday night."