The match-up between the third- and fourth-ranked rushers in the Football Bowl Subdivision was overshadowed by the University of Louisville's opportunistic offense, dogged defense and some special special teams Saturday as the Cardinals clobbered Connecticut 26-0 in front of 48,591 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"It was an outstanding conference win for us," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "Our defense was outstanding and our special teams were really outstanding.
"Our game plan going in was to stop the run. I told our guys it was going to be a 15-round fight, it was whoever was left standing...Connecticut is always a physical game and I told our guys to be physical and stop the run. We couldn't let Todman run the ball, that was the key to stopping them. We had to stop the run if we had to put eight in the box. We weren't going to let him run the ball."
UofL held Todman, the Huskies' junior running back who entered the game third in the FBS in rushing yards per game (152.2), to a season-low 80 yards on 19 carries as the Cards pitched their second shutout in their last three games, and the program's first of a Big East foe since joining the conference.
The Cardinals converted UConn's first two turnovers into 10 points and Chris Philpott tied a school record with four field goals as UofL (4-3, 1-1) equaled its victory total - both overall and in the conference - of last season and bounced back from last Friday's loss to Cincinnati.
UofL senior running Bilal Powell, who came in fourth in the FBS in rushing (149.7 ypg), rushed a season-high 27 times for 105 yards as he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season.
"I say Bilal Powell is the best running back in the country, I wanted to get him his 1,000 yards," Strong said.
Both Powell and Todman were held in check, relatively speaking, as the expected rushing war between the conference's top two rushing offenses (UofL entered ranked first and UConn second) and bottom two rushing defenses (the Huskies came in seventh, the Cardinals eighth) never materialized - due to the defenses.
Connecticut, which came in second in the Big East in rushing (196.3), was held to 108 yards on 25 carries by a UofL D that entered ranked last in the conference against the run - giving up 149.8 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile the Cards, who came in averaging 219.5 rushing yards per game, gained only 160 yards on 38 carries.
UofL's passing game was much more proficient than that of UConn (3-4, 0-2). Senior quarterback Adam Froman completed 18 of 30 passes for 195 yards and the only offensive touchdown of the game - a 2-yard toss to tight end Cameron Graham early in the second quarter.
"It was kind of frustrating and it was kind of embarrassing," Froman said of the inability of UofL's offense to score touchdowns. "Our offense stumbled a little, but defense always came back and countered for us."
That was true on the Huskies' next possession too as Johnny Patrick picked off Matthew Box's pass and returned it to the UofL 43. Six plays later Philpott kicked his first field goal of the game, this one from 39 yards out.
The Cards held the Huskies to three-and-out on their next possession before Beaumont returned Cole Wagner's punt 91 yards for a touchdown. The TD was called back, however, due to a holding call on Zed Evans.
"When I ran the first one I was pretty tired because it was a pretty long one," Beaumont said. "I thought I got the reward of scoring a touchdown, so when I saw the penalty (for holding) I was sort of down. I told the punt team, ‘We are going to get this again.' And they told me, ‘We are going to get it back for you.'"
Eventually they did, but UofL's subsequent possession ended with Philpott's 42-yard tear-drop field goal that gave Louisville a 13-0 lead at halftime.
"Give Philpott credit he missed two last week and he hit four today," Strong said. "Kickers are a little different, you can't say much to them. It is a mental approach. You don‘t want to say much to them. I think he understood. Coach (Kenny) Carter runs our special teams and does a great job running special teams. He was able to talk to him. No other coach can talk to him the way Coach Carter can."
UofL limited UConn to three-and-out again on the Huskies' first possession of the second half. That's when Beaumont, and his blockers, made good on their earlier promise and the senior wide receiver returned another Wagner punt 74 yards for a touchdown.
"I celebrated and turned around to see if there were any flags," said Beaumont, who led Louisville with seven receptions for 53 yards.
Philpott added two more field goals - of 26 and 24 yards - for the Cardinals, who outgained the Huskies 355-195 in total offense. UofL's defense did its damage without junior defensive end Greg Scruggs, who was held out of the game due to injury. Hakeem Smith led the Cards with 7 ½ tackles, while also forcing a fumble.
"We let that one slip away last week and it was kind of upsetting, it was good to get this win," Beaumont said. "I feel like the Big East is wide open, any week, anybody can go down."
The Cardinals can try to prove that next Saturday, when they travel to current league-leader Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-0). Kickoff is set for noon.