Louisville's 24-10 win over Rutgers on Thursday night made the program bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season. While the offense racked up over 450 yards of total offense against the Scarlet Knights, it was the play of the defense that has kept the Cardinals on track to claim the American Athletic title and a second straight BCS bowl.
Rutgers arrived in the Derby City with a 40 point per game average. The Scarlet Knights lowest point total prior to Thursday was 28 and they had eclipsed the 50 point mark twice. It took a tipped pass reception and a successful fake field goal to barely make it to double-digits against the Cardinals.
The Louisville defense played an attacking style of defense that kept pressure on Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova for all four quarters. Led by defensive end Marcus Smith's three, the Cardinals recorded 8 sacks in the win. It's the highest team sack total since the team registered 9 in a 40-13 win at Rutgers in 2010, Charlie Strong's first season at Louisville.
"Tonight's performance was amazing. Even with eight sacks, we missed about four and five. When you can put pressure on the quarterback and you can just rush four, you feel like you have a pretty good front," Strong said. "I think Marcus Smith and (Lorenzo) Mauldin playing the outside are two of the best defensive ends in the country because they can rush the passer."
The 8 sacks ups Louisville's season total to 23 for an average of 3.8 per game, which would equal Clemson and Fresno State for tops in the nation.
In all, Louisville totaled 11 tackles for a loss and 5 quarterback hurries.
"It was just fun to watch that game and how aggressive we were and watch our defense get stops," said Strong.
The constant pressure also was key in limiting the Scarlet Knights passing attack. The Cardinals intercepted Nova four times with James Burgess, Terell Floyd, Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith all coming up with a pick. It was the highest interception total since the Cardinals picked off Houston five times during the 2000 season.
"If they didn't know, now the whole country knows what kind of defense we are," Pryor said. "We are going to bring that each week we come out here."
The Louisville defense ranks among the nation's best in a number of categories and their performance on national television provides further evidence that they belong in the conversation as the nation's best.
"I would have to say we have the best defense," said senior safety Hakeem Smith. "We work hard in practice and that shows during games. We used tonight to show that we are a top defense."