Strong, No. 7 Cardinals pleased running game
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)
A game in which No. 7 Louisville failed to post its usual gaudy numbers did reveal one encouraging statistic.
Of the Cardinals' 492 yards in the hard-earned 27-13 victory against rival Kentucky on Saturday, a season-best 242 were generated on the ground.
Running backs Senorise Perry, Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown combining for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater added 35 yards rushing on a day he passed for a season-low 250 against the Wildcats.
The offense got going following a blistering halftime chewing-out by Louisville coach Charlie Strong. It worked. The Cardinals (3-0) had a more balanced attack in the second half after an uncharacteristically slow start.
The next step is continuing that effort in Saturday's final nonconference game against Florida International (0-3).
''You want balance and any time you can get balance with your run and pass game, it is so critical,'' Strong said after the game. ''We were able to go run the football. You look at Dominique, who made some big runs. And then Senorise was able to break the long one down the boundary. Even Michael Dyer made some big runs.
''The running backs have to run through a defender. Sometimes, he may not get blocked but just run through him and it was good to see that happen.''
Perry rushed 11 times for 100 yards, including TD runs of 1 and 36 yards. It was his second consecutive 100-yard game against Kentucky and his first since gaining 101 in a victory over Pittsburgh last September. The senior also became Louisville's first 100-yard rusher this season, demonstrating he's recovered after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament at Syracuse last November.
Brown also had reason to celebrate after gaining 45 yards on 12 carries - 27 on five straight attempts - to set up Bridgewater's only TD pass. The QB threw a 13-yarder to DeVante Parker to give Louisville a 10-3 lead.
Then there was Dyer, the former Auburn star and BCS championship game MVP who's still learning Louisville's playbook after transferring from Arkansas Baptist College last month. Facing a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time since 2011, he got the start but found little room to run as Kentucky stifled Louisville's offense. The Cardinals had 153 yards in the first half, disappointing by their standards.
The combination of Strong's tirade, scheme adjustments and better blocking helped free Dyer to finish with 62 yards on 11 carries and re-establish the backfield's credentials after a 78-yard outing last week against Eastern Kentucky.
''The second half, we made adjustments and the offensive line came off of the ball,'' said Brown, who redshirted last season with a knee injury. ''Our lead blocker and the tight end did a great job coming off of the ball as well.''
The Cardinals still seek a featured back as they return home to play an FIU squad facing run defense issues after allowing FCS-level Bethune-Cookman to rush for 311 yards in Saturday's 34-13 loss in Miami. The Panthers allowed three BCC backs to each run for at least 65 yards and a touchdown including quarterback Quentin Williams.
Though that seems to set up well for Louisville's backs after their best game this season, Saturday was latest Cardinal's lesson to take nothing for granted.
Punter Ryan Johnson saw more first-half action than he probably expected, the offense didn't reach the end zone until just before halftime and Bridgewater even ran six times in one of his slowest starts.
After the Cardinals' performance against Kentucky, everything remains a work in progress - especially Bridgewater's mechanics in falling to the turf when he runs. Several times he rolled down instead of sliding, something that obviously needs improvement if the Heisman Trophy candidate hopes to stay in one piece.
What's important is knowing that the running lanes are there if he has to do it himself.
''We just told the offensive line we're going to line up and run it at them,'' Bridgewater said of the ground game's improvement. ''Once you're able to win the line of scrimmage, you're pretty much unstoppable.''