While the Louisville offense averaged just 19.5 points in their first two games this year, the Cardinals hit their stride the last two games, averaging 31 points and 514 yards of total offense.
The key for the Cardinals turnaround on offense? Balance.
Mike Sanford's offense kept Oregon State and Arkansas State off-balance with an attack that averaged 298 yards through the air and 216 on the ground. The Cardinals enter Saturday's game against Memphis ranked 29th nationally in total offense; 30th in rushing offense; and 44th in passing offense.
"They're really starting to hit their stride," said Memphis coach Larry Porter. "Their quarterback is a gritty guy. He can throw it and tuck it and run. So that presents a challenge. And their running back [Bilal Powell] has had a strong season as well."
Adam Froman's growth at quarterback has been a major reason for Louisville's improving fortunes on offense. The 6-foot-4 senior, who started seven games last year, threw for a season-high 308 yards against Ark. St. and a career-best three touchdowns. In his past two games, Froman has thrown four touchdowns and run for two more scores. He leads the Big East in total offense at 252 yards per game.
"I think some positives for us right now is that we are well balanced with 308 yards passing and 267 yards rushing against Arkansas State," Froman said. "That is a balanced attack, and when you can do that defenses do not know what to prepare for. They are on their heels saying, ‘OK, they are going to throw here, but what if they run?'
Bilal Powell, Louisville's senior running back, leads a strong rushing attack that ranks second in the Big East at 197 yards per contest. Powell, who ranks 12th nationally in rushing, has gained 485 yards on the ground and scored five touchdowns this season.
Victor Anderson has helped form a talented 1-2 punch at running back with Powell. Anderson ranks 28th nationally in all-purpose yardage and has averaged 4.9 yards a carry this season. The junior enjoyed his best game of the season last week, rushing for 108 yards vs. Arkansas State. Powell also went over the 100-yard mark against the Red Wolves – the first time UofL has had two 100 yard rushers in the same game since a loss to Connecticut in 2008.
"We are able to run the ball because we are just so physical up front with our offensive line and they are doing a good job of knocking people off of the ball," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "Bilal Powell has been playing well each week. In the open field, Bilal is able to run defensive backs over. Victor is more of an outside runner and when he hits the corner he is able to get yardage. The reason as to why they run the ball so well is because the offensive line is blocking well."
Building continuity with his receivers has been a challenge for Froman this season. The Cardinals have sustained more than their fair share of injuries at wide receiver. This week, leading receiver Doug Beaumont is out, as is promising redshirt freshman Damion Copeland. Despite the injuries, Louisville's passing game hasn't suffered, thanks primarily to junior college transfer Josh Bellamy, and a host of returning players who have stepped up their play, notably tight end Cameron Graham and Josh Chichester.
Though Bellamy didn't play much against Kentucky due to injury, he's come on strong in Louisville's last two games. Bellamy had his coming out party at Oregon State with three catches for 65 yards and followed that with a two touchdown performance against Arkansas State.
Graham has also played well this season. He's second on the team with 11 receptions, and caught a touchdown pass against Oregon State. Chichester, who switched positions from wide receiver to tight end this summer, helped pick up the slack against Arkansas State with Beaumont out, catching four balls for 66 yards.
"It is a challenge at times," Froman said. "When you lose an intricate part of the puzzle (Beaumont), somebody you have been working with day in and day out for months it changes the dynamics of the offense. With as many injuries as we have had so far, guys have stepped up and we have not lost a step. That is a great testament to the guys.
"Sometimes it is hard to keep focus as a backup with not knowing when your chance is going to come. They have done a good job in following the starting receivers' leads. There is not much of a difference when they come in and that makes it a lot easier on me."
While the Cardinals offense is definitely on the rise, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Turnovers and penalties have often stopped the offense from being even more effective than it has in recent weeks. Louisville has turned the ball over in all four games this season, and had a season-high 13 penalties against Arkansas State, including one that negated a touchdown.
"When we do struggle, one thing goes wrong and as it was at Arkansas State, we stop ourselves," Froman said. "We had 13 penalties and against good teams you cannot have that and still go out and win. We were able to overcome that [against Arkansas St.]. We have pretty much shown in every single game that we cannot be stopped as an offense. It is us that is stopping ourselves with penalties, dropped balls, interceptions and fumbles. If we can go and eliminate the mental errors I do not see us being stopped."
If Louisville can cut down on miscues and penalties they should continue putting up big numbers against a Memphis defense that has allowed 48 or more points in three of five games this season. The Tigers are young on defense, listing three freshman as starters this week, and rank 94th nationally in total defense.