With eight starters returning from a defense that finished among the nation's top 20 in total defense in 2015, the expectations for the Louisville defense remains high for 2016. If the unit's performance during the Cardinals annual Red-White Spring Game is an indicator, it may just improve on its stellar play last fall.
The first team Red defense squared off against the second team offense on 57 plays and the result was a near shutout, allowing just one touchdown in a 73-7 victory at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The White offense managed just eight first downs and 181 total yards - 65 of which came on one run from Malin Jones.
"Defensively, our defensive line really dominated the second offensive line," said U of L head coach Bobby Petrino. "That made it hard to move the ball with the white offense."
The defensive front was consistently in the offensive backfield. Led by a pair of sacks from James Hearns, the first team was credited with five sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
"It's what you want," Petrino added. "You want the number one defense to go three-and-out the majority of the time."
Having so many key returners back is the focal point of the defense, but those stepping into larger roles made strong impressions during the two-hour scrimmage. Linebacker Stacy Thomas and defensive lineman Drew Bailey were among those that drew praise from Petrino.
Thomas tied for team-high with seven tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.
"Stacy Thomas played really fast, really physical and he can cover. His ability to replace James Burgess is something that is really important to us and he shows all the skills that he'll be able to do that."
Bailey was a constant force along the front, frequently forcing the pocket to collapse. He finished with two tackles for a loss, including a sack.
"I thought that Drew Bailey really came off the ball and created some havoc in the backfield. He certainly was dominating the line of scrimmage."
The play of the secondary was also a highlight on Saturday. Junior cornerback Trumaine Washington had a pair of interceptions, senior safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was a presence all over the field and junior safety Chucky Williams registered seven stops.
"I think we did great on defense today, other than that one long touchdown run," said Harvey-Clemons, who finished with two tackles for a loss, including a sack. "I thought we did a great job of communicating and playing together."