Smith, Mauldin among nation's best

University of Louisville defensive ends Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin both rank among the nation's best and are key figures in the Cardinals top-rated defense.

The headlines for the University of Louisville as the season approached centered around quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals potent offense. Following each victory, the story-lines remained focused on the performance of high-scoring Cardinals.

Halfway through the season, and following a 24-10 victory over Rutgers, the defense has grabbed the media's attention.

The play of the defense was crucial against the Scarlet Knights. As the offense struggled to find the end zone, the defense recorded 8 sacks, 4 interceptions and limited Rutgers to only 12 yards rushing.

The U of L defense has already pitched one shutout and has held two teams to seven points this season. In the previous outings, the defense wasn't relied on so heavily as it was last Thursday night, so was it the best outing of the season for the Cardinals defense?

"I wouldn't say it was the best because we didn't get a shutout, but it was pretty close," said junior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin.

Among the reasons for the stout defensive play is the aggressive pass rush from Mauldin and fellow starting defensive end Marcus Smith. The pair had Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova on his heels throughout the game and combined for four sacks.

"When you can put pressure on the quarterback and you can just rush four, you feel like you have a pretty good front," U of L head coach Charlie Strong said following the Cardinals sixth win of the season. "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 pair rank among the nation's elite defensive ends. Mauldin's seven sacks are tops on the team and tied for fifth best in the nation. Smith's six sacks place him in a tie for eighth in the country.

A senior from Columbus, Ga., Smith's career total has climbed to 15.5, placing him 10th in the school record books for career sacks, surpassing former great Ted Washington. Mauldin will soon join Smith in the top 10, as his 14 career sack total equals Washington's.

"It's great fun out there," Smith said. "We fly around and have fun doing it. It's what we do in practice every day and that shows up during the games."

The constantly attacking defense has pushed the Cardinals among the nationally leaders in nearly every statistical category.

The squad ranks 3rd for sacks, trailing future ACC mates Clemson and Virginia Tech. The Cardinals are 2nd in total defense, only one yard shy of national leader Michigan State. The unit has excelled at keeping opponents out of the end zone and is tops in the NCAA - leading No. 2 Alabama by a four margin - in scoring defense.

Louisville also ranks in the nation's top five for red zone stops, against the rush and limiting third down conversions.

"We do think we are the best defense in the country," Smith said. "I believe we are the best in the country."

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