The mood around the University of Louisville football program is positive heading into Saturday’s regular-season home finale against Syracuse after the 38-21 win over Virginia last Saturday.
“I think it was our overall best game of the year when you look at offense, defense, (and) special teams,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “Defensively, I liked the way we played. I thought our defensive front set the tone early, getting the pass rush out of (redshirt senior linebacker) James (Hearns) and (redshirt sophomore) Jonathan Greenard and (senior linebacker) Trevon (Young).”
“Offensively, I was happy with our offensive line. They had a lot of new looks for us, some crazy stuff, and our offensive line did a good job of sorting it all out and blocking well. We ran the ball with a lot of physicalness.”
The win was much-needed, not only to get to bowl eligibility, but to get the season back on track after a loss to Wake Forest. Petrino doesn’t want his squad to get complacent, but close out the season with some momentum.
“We need to build on it,” Petrino said. “I think our defense, in practice last week, did a great job of communicating. We’re really focused and we’re running full-speed to the ball. They did a good job of feeding off each other.”
The euphoria of becoming bowl-eligible wore off pretty quickly, as Petrino turned his team’s focus to preparing for the next challenge: Syracuse.
Under the direction of head coach Dino Babers, the Orange present a serious challenge defensively because of their fast-paced tempo.
The Orange, entering the game at 4-6, rank second nationally with average of 88.6 plays per game. The pace has proved difficult to defend.
“Syracuse gives you some issues with their tempo on offense,” Petrino said. “They pride themselves on fast, fast, and faster, and they really go with it. They’ve got a great quarterback that’s been dinged up. He didn’t play last week in (Eric) Dungey. We played against him the last couple of years. He can really throw the ball. He’s also a great runner with the football, so, I’m not sure what his status is, if he’ll be going or not.”
The Cardinals’ defense, coming off its best overall performance of the season, limited the Cavaliers to 277 yards of total offense, including just 63 on the ground – the fourth time this season holding the opposition to less than 100 rushing yards.
The Cardinals will look to offset the Orange’s offensive execution by giving their defense a break by continuing to focus on running the football. In the last four games, the Cardinals have averaged 268.8 yards on the ground after running for 298 in the win over Virginia.
Behind 147 rushing yards from quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 20th 100-yard game of his career, the Cardinals received 88 yards from Dae Williams and 55 from Malik Williams.
“You have to be able to run the ball and throw it to be able to win a game,” Petrino said. “Sometimes you throw it first and then run off of that. It was nice the other night to be able to pull out some old days where you run the ball first and throw it down field for touchdowns after that. It was great to see Lamar run those fades in for touchdowns.”
The Cardinals’ home finale features with Senior Day festivities for a class that has won 32 games over the four-year span and will make its fourth-straight appearance in a bowl game.
“It’s a special group to me,” Petrino said. “They have done a great job for this program. I always tell our players, ‘You see that Trager Center over there, you guys are the ones that built that’. The guys that were playing here when we were able to get that built and the expansion because of how they played on the field and won games, we were able to raise money and generate and keep building on our program. They are the first group that played in the ACC conference, and I think they have done a good job of representing us. I hate to see them go.”
by Rocco Gasparro