Louisville defense lost several key players in the game but still came up big in a 27-21 win in the Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Louisville defense overcame some adversity and the loss of several key players but still made plays down the stretch in a 27-21 win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.

University of Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham summed it up in three words after the Cardinals' 27-21 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday night in the Music City Bowl.

"I'm just exhausted," Grantham said - and then he smiled.

Grantham's defense made the plays down the stretch to help the Cardinals score the victory over the Aggies but it didn't come without adversity. The Cardinals played most of the game without three key starters.

"Our defense really played well," U of L coach Bobby Petrino said. "That stop at the end was big."

Linebacker James Burgess - who started his 43 career game - lasted just 11 seconds in the Music City Bowl. He was called for targeting on the first play of the game when he hit A&M receiver Damion Ratley. Also on the play U of L cornerback Shaq Wiggins was caught in the line of fire and injured his back and missed most of the rest of the game.

Later in the first quarter, defensive end Trevon Young suffered a serious hip injury and was taken to the hospital.

"We had other guys that had to step up," Grantham said. "You hate to lose guys but Stacy (Thomas) and Jaire (Alexander) had to step up and they both played really well for us."

Thomas, who replaced Keith Kelsey for much of the Kentucky game, came in for Burgess and led the Cardinals with 11 tackles. Alexander came in for Wiggins, who tried to come back but then left later in the second quarter, and had 10 tackles.

"We just tried to keep our composure and other guys had to step in there," Kelsey said. "We just had to compete and keep our composure."

Petrino said he "knows James (Burgess) wasn't trying to do" anything illegal but noted that with the new rules incollege football that "sometimes you just have to live with it."

Grantham didn't agree with the call, noting he was "really disappointed."

"You have to give (the defense) some rights too," he said. "It's a violent sport."

Grantham said with the loss of three key guys he was a bit worried with the Aggies' up-tempo style that his team would be able to finish the deal late in the game but they "hung in there."

"We got a little gassed in the second half," he said. "But we were able to hang in there and make a few plays. We had to hold them twice there in the end because of the fourth-down penalty but we were able to make a play."

Another star for the U of L defense was Devonte Fields, who finished with eight tackles. He had seven solo tackles, three sacks and three pass breakups for the Cardinals.

Fields finished the season with 11.5 sacks - the most by a U of L player since Marcus Smith in 2014 - and had 22.5 tackles for a loss. His total was just a half a tackle for a loss off the U of L school record set in 2001 by Dwayne White.

"We had a lot of guys go down early," Grantham said. "And we had a lot of guys step up. I'm proud of these guys."

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