Much has been said about the Louisville defense during the season's first four games. As the team prepped for the 2015 season, confidence was high and expectations were rising. Then came the rush happy trio of opening games for a defense that lost multiple players from a year prior to the NFL. The result wasn't pretty, as the Cardinals surrendered an average of 172 rushing yards per game en route to a 1-3 start.
Many began to wonder if the preseason expectations were too high and if Louisville would struggle to slow anyone on the ground this season.
Facing an undefeated NC State squad that entered Saturday's contest ranked among the nation's top 20 in rushing with an average of 259 yards per game, the Cardinals defense put together its best complete effort of the season. U of L held NC State to a season low in yardage, third down conversion and forced two turnovers to help fuel the Cardinals 20-13 win at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino was quick to credit the defense following the win.
"That was a good win for us, a very, very good team win," he said. "Obviously, we all understand that we played great defense. We came up with big plays defensively. Did a nice job of shutting them down."
Petrino added that it was key that the Cardinals built an early lead that allowed the defense to become more aggressive in its persuit of the NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
"I think that's important for us, that we play with a lead because we have really good pass rushers and guys that can get to the quarterback and make them throw and I think it really helped us."
The Wolfpack ground game was held a dismal 1.5 yards per carry average, mustering just 45 yards on the ground. The Cardinals defensive front frequently pressured Brissett. With the Cardinals nursing a touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, the defense kept all Wolfpack comeback hopes in check and allowed just 22 total yards in the final 15 minutes.
"We're pretty good on defense," Petrino said. "We have good defensive front guys. They played fast. I thought we really controlled the line of scrimmage at the end and were able to get after the quarterback. Not only sack him and hit him, but when you're doing that the quarterback's eyes seem to come down and you don't see things down the field, so I think it all played into effect. We were strong and physical."
Linebacker James Burgess led the Cardinals with nine tackles, including one for a loss. Defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss, including a sack.
"I think we are a really good defensive team," he said. "I like the way we run to the ball. We tackled really well and that defensive front is hard to block."