The Cards started out this game like they started 3 of their first 4 games this season, by scoring a touchdown on their first possession. The rest of the first quarter as well as the second and third looked like the offense from last year-the O-Line playing poorly, letting the Bulls get penetration and sacking LeFors for the first time this season.
When he did have time to throw the ball in the first half, many of his passes were off the mark, going over the heads of the Cardinal receivers. The running game, aside from Gates' 67-yard scamper to paydirt on the third play of the game, looked timid. Eric Shelton, who amassed nearly 300 yards in his first two games, again looked indecisive when trying to find holes, especially near the goal line.
When the 4th Quarter rolled around, UofL's offense that fans have become accustomed to see finally appeared. LeFors and his offense got into their rhythm, mixing mid-range passes with a short but bruising ground game. The mis-direction plays that have given Louisville opponents fits all year were working again and points were being scored. The double reverse capped off a second straight scoring drive, leaving Cardinals fans grinning with delight when Petrino and Co. showed that they had more tricks up their sleeves. (Some grins may have turned to quick frowns when many UofL fans remembered that this same play was used against them when current UofL Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino held the same position at conference rival Southern Miss.)
If the offense hadn't taken as long to get cranked up, the ‘Ville would be 5-0 and sitting in a lofty perch in this week's Top 25. However, everybody can be happy with the effort given by the offense in Tampa on Saturday. They showed a continuing desire to compete and win that not many recent Louisville teams have had. I see nothing but continued improvement from the offense all season long. Playing Army next week will certainly give them a quick opportunity to succeed.
Ex-Card All-American and Tampa Bay Buc Dewayne White was on the sideline Saturday night, but all he was doing for UofL was teasing the coaches. The holes in the first quarter swiss cheese defense were quickly filled after the first frame ended. South Florida's great field position gave them two swift scores on drives totaling only 108 yards. Once the Cardinal "D" figured out pressuring Bulls QB Ronnie Banks resulted in incompletions and interceptions, their scoring halted for two quarters. The field position issue was ironed out and the Bulls had a tough time scoring the remainder of the game. A season-high 3 INTs (most in a game since the Cards stole four from Southern Miss in 2000) helped UofL stay within striking distance when they trailed for most of the game and instilled more confidence in this young group.
So far this season, the defense has played admirably, never allowing themselves to be manhandled by anyone. The youngsters in the secondary, Smart, Gay, Brent Johnson and Harris have grown up and learned a lot quickly. I look for huge things from this unit in the future. The D-Line core is very fast and makes this defense extremely solid when they apply pressure. "Hammer" was his usual self, flying all over the field, injuring opponents by his brute force. The South Florida game was a good test for this bunch, as they were responsible for keeping the team in the game while the offense was sputtering. If they can start defending the option better, these guys will be a force to be reckoned with.
The kick-off coverage in the first stanza was horrid, but like the rest of the team, it got better as the game progressed. What stood out in my mind was the punt coverage. You would have thought the USF punt returner said something about a UofL player's mother they way they hunted him down and flung him repeatedly to the turf.
The punting team was again very solid. Punter Brent Moody is very quick at getting his punts off and that helps translate into good coverage. The kick-off team has yet to break a big one to the house, but don't be surprised when Clark runs a couple back this year.
On the down side, they had their first field goal blocked, committed a silly holding penalty on a successful fake punt and haven't blocked a punt since they played the Killer Blueberries in Lexington.
Look for the team to click on all cylinders when the Black Knights of Army come to town. They have scored a grand total of zero (0) points in their last two games. The young secondary will continue to get valuable game experience in this one. Army (0-5), ranks in the 100's in both total offense and total defense.