Cards offensive line 'did our job' in bowl

There were plenty of players who made key contributions in the University of Louisville's victory in last week's Allstate Sugar Bowl over Florida. But one of the groups that played better than many expected – the offensive line. Cardinal Authority takes a look at the line and what the future holds there.

Heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Florida, the University of Louisville offensive line to a man all had the same response about what they had to do.

The Cardinals wanted to try and establish the running game and had to protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in order for the Cardinals to be successful against the SEC power Gators.

"We know what we have to do," center Mario Benavides said before the game.

And the Cardinals did it. While U of L never had a ton of success in the running game, the Cardinals did enough to keep the defense honest and did a solid job of protecting Bridgewater as the Cardinals rolled 33-23 over the Gators.

"I told the guys, this is just what we have been practicing," Benavides said. "We knew if we did our job that we could be successful. I'm not sure anybody knew we would be up 30-10 at some point, but we knew what we could do."

The Cardinals finished with 336 yards of total offense. U of L rushed for 70 yards, including 63 yards in the second half, and Bridgewater threw for 266 yards and was sacked three times for 33 yards.

"We were confident we could protect our quarterback," sophomore lineman John Miller said. "We knew if we could do that then we would win. We put in a lot of practice, we stayed focused and we knew it was going to be tough.

"But we hung in there and we did it."

Several members of the line recalled an ESPN analyst during halftime of the Rutgers game questioning the "toughness" of the offensive line and they wanted to prove to the nation that "we were tough," according to sophomore Jake Smith.

"To come out and play like we did, there was no question we were a much tougher team than them," Smith said. "The film will prove it. They had some great players but we came out and gritted it out and stayed tough."

Senior Alex Kupper, the leader of the unit, said the line watched a lot of film on Florida together and saw something that gave them an advantage from other opponents that had played the Gators.

"They were a team that love to get after you and they had speed, and they made their share of plays," Kupper said. "But if you watch them on film, people would flinch if they made a big sack watch team like, ‘Oh no here comes Florida,' and we didn't do that. They made some good plays, we just kept it in our minds that we didn't want to flinch. We had to make the next play."

Benavides started at center, while Brown and Kupper started at the tackle spots and Miller and Kamran Joyer started at guards. Smith, the normal starter at one guard spot, had been battling the flu and played in the game.

True freshman Nacho Garcia also played in the game.

"We knew we had to play a big role in the game," Brown said. "We opened some holes and we protected Teddy. We had to protect Teddy."

While the line is celebrating a Sugar Bowl victory, the Cardinals are also looking ahead and excited about the future of the line.

Smith, Brown and Miller all have two years left on the line and now have two years of experience, while Joyer will be a senior next season and Garcia played a lot late this season as a true freshman.

Offensive line coach Dave Borbely is also excited about freshmen Joe Manley and T.C. Klusman, while Ryan Mack and Aaron Epps will also add depth.

The key competition during spring practice and the fall camp will be for the spot to replace Benavides at center.

"They'll have a really good group next year," Benavides said.

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