O-line faces major challenge from Rutgers

Charlie Strong's inexperienced offensive line faces a difficult task against the sack-happy Rutgers defense Friday night.

Charlie Strong's inexperienced offensive line faces a difficult task against the sack-happy Rutgers defense Friday night.

A patchwork unit that has had eight different starters in six games, Louisville's offensive front struggled through the season's first six games. Run blocking and pass protection have been problematic and penalties have been too frequent.

The Cardinals haven't been able to generate any sustained success on the ground, ranking 102nd in the nation in rushing offense, or keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater upright, allowing 22 sacks to date. In one series against Cincinnati, the offensive line committed three penalties in one series, digging a hole deep in Bearcat territory that led to Isaiah Pead's go-ahead score.

For an offensive line that has allowed four or more sacks in five of six games this season, Greg Schiano's defense isn't a welcomed sight.

Rutgers ranks No. 2 nationally in sacks with 24. The Scarlet Knights bring pressure from all over the field and Strong expects Schiano's defense to come hard after Bridgewater, who is making just his fourth career start and has been prone to turnovers, throwing six interceptions. Rutgers pressure usually produces big results, as they have forced more turnovers than anybody in the country this season.

"If you're able to bring pressure and get to the quarterback you have a chance in this league," Strong said. "It's all about creating turnovers."

That Louisville's offensive line has struggled this season shouldn't come as a surprise. The Cardinals are replacing two first team All-Big East selections (tackle Byron Stingily and guard Mark Wetteran), plus seasoned starters Josh Byrom and Greg Tomczyk, who combined to start 25 games last season.

Louisville's inexperienced offensive line has been riddled with injuries this season, slowing the unit's growth. Mario Benavides, the unit's lone returning starter, missed the first three games with an injury. That forced starting tackle Alex Kupper to center and seldom used senior Hector Hernandez into the starting lineup. Hernandez is currently out with injury.

The Cardinals have started two true freshmen at guard this season. John Miller started the first three games before going down in the second half against Kentucky. He missed two games, prompting Strong to move true freshman Jamon Brown from defense to offense. Brown started against North Carolina and Cincinnati.

"When you have young linemen it's all about the scheme," said Strong. "You want to scheme up those guys."

Kupper, a junior, senior tackle Ryan Kessling, a first year starter, and redshirt freshman Jake Smith are the only offensive linemen to start all six games for the Cardinals this season. Sophomore Kamran Joyer, a top reserve, is out for the season with injury.

Friday night, Strong's make-shirt unit will face its biggest challenge.

"Teddy has to get rid of the football because they're going to bring pressure and our wide receivers have to win outside and get open," Strong said. "Our offensive line is going to have to protect. We know they're going to bring pressure. They've created a lot of turnovers bringing the pressure."

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