Louisville's offense work-in-progress

Charlie Strong's offense is a work in progress. That much was evident after Louisville failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 25-16 loss to Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium, the Cardinals third straight loss and fourth in six games this season.

During their current three-game losing streak, Louisville has scored just three offensive touchdowns. The Cardinals have been plagued by penalties and a subpar offensive line, which has resulted in an anemic running game that generated just 70 yards (2.1 yards per carry) against Cincinnati.

"We're not executing," Strong said. "There are too many penalties in all phases of the game. It's not one specific area, it's a lot of areas."

Against Cincinnati, Louisville's offense generated 161 yards in the first half, scoring field goals on three of five first half possessions. When safety Mike Evans intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros late in the first half and scored, Louisville took momentum and a 16-7 lead into halftime.

But the Cardinals couldn't sustain momentum in the second half, a recurring theme this season. On 7 second half possessions, Louisville's offense was forced to punt four times, turned the ball over on an interception and lost possession on downs before time ran out.

"We had a little rhythm in the first half, but were self-destructive in the second half," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "We didn't execute the way we did in the first half. It's that simple. We become our own worst enemy. We could get a penalty or mis-execute an assignment. It's just a lot of little things that make the big things happen. It comes down to fundamentals, assignment detail, poise …all the things you have to learn in this process."

Louisville's Jekyll and Hyde personality is indicative of a team that lost 25 seniors and has started nine true freshmen this season. Still, Strong wants his young players to grow up quickly and learn to finish games.

"For a team to put it together in the first half and then not go out the second half and finish the game that's our issue and problem right now," said Strong. "When you look at the first half we only had one penalty. Then you look at that drive where we went backward just changed the momentum of the game. I'm pleased with the way they played the whole first half, but we have to play like that for two halves. We have to finish in order for us to be a good football team."

Watson's offense faces two big problems - subpar offensive line play and inexperience at several key positions - and there aren't easy solutions to either one. The offensive line, which features two true freshmen (John Miller and Jamon Brown) and redshirt freshman Jake Smith, continued its season-long struggles against Cincinnati's tough defense, allowing four sacks, while failing to create running lanes for Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright.

"You know you're going to go through speed-bumps," Watson said. "That's going to happen when you play those (young) guys. Last year we graduated four pretty salty guys and they were veterans who had been in a lot of fires. Even though some of the guys are upperclassmen this year, they haven't played a lot. They're getting baptized for the first time. There's no secret, we've just got to keep working."

Watson believes that time and hard work eventually will solve Louisville's problems up front. In the meantime, the Cardinals will continue to try to figure a way to cultivate an effective running game to take pressure off freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for 195 yards against Cincinnati.

"You can see them getting better," Watson said of the Cards offensive line. "Miller, Brown those guys are freshmen. They're seeing it all. We've got a lot of young guys and a lot of work to do. It's a process. We've got to keep believing in what we fundamentally believe in. We have to develop a run game before anything. We have to develop the attitude and mentality to run the football."

Inexperience isn't only a problem up front. Besides Bridgewater, Louisville's two leading rushers against Cincinnati – Brown and Wright – were both sophomores. The Cardinals top two receivers against the Bearcats – Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris – are both freshmen. True freshmen DeVante Parker, who hasn't played in the last two games due to an ankle injury, leads the team in touchdown receptions.

"We've just got to keep grinding. We've got young players and it's part of the process," Watson said. "When all these kids grow up we're going to be a good football team."

Though Bridgewater is now 0-3 as the starter, Strong stated unequivocally after the game that he's sticking with the athletic 6'3 freshman.

"Teddy made some plays," Watson said. "He's very poised and didn't lose his demeanor during the fire-storm. He hung in there and competed. He's going to be a special player."


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