Against the Wildcats, the Cardinals were able to contain versatile quarterback Shane Boyd and shutdown an offense that scored 51 points against previously unbeaten Indiana last weekend. At West Point two weeks ago, U of L Head Coach Bobby Petrino's defense again played effectively, limiting the Black Knights to just 4-of-17 third down conversions.
But clearly, the North Carolina Tar Heels will present the improved Cardinal defense its most significant challenge of the young season. Led by the talented and experienced quarterback Darian Durant, the Tar Heels are off to a 2-1 start, including an upset of Georgia Tech last weekend, and are averaging 478 yards and nearly 36 points per game.
Petrino, for one, knows the Tar Heels balanced offense will provide a stern test for his defense this weekend.
"I'm real excited and looking forward to this game," Petrino said of the upcoming contest against the Tar Heels. "North Carolina's offense is playing very well. They run the ball well, have a very experienced quarterback, have speed at wide receiver and a solid offensive line. So I think this will be a great challenge for our defense."
To counter UNC's explosive offense, Petrino seems intent on controlling the ball, particularly with his deep and talented stable of running backs, to keep the Heels offense off the field and limiting their scoring opportunities.
"I think it's going to be real important for us to control the football offensively," Petrino explained. "Both with our running game and by throwing the ball down field much like we did against Army. And the game could come down to who makes the plays with special teams."
North Carolina has struggled under coach John Bunting the past two seasons but the Tar Heels seem an improved team this season. Though they made some mistakes on both sides of the ball in their first two games against William and Mary and Virginia, the Tar Heel defense, a unit that allows more points than they've scored on the season, came up with five big turnovers against Georgia Tech which keyed their upset victory over the weekend.
"They got five turnovers against Georgia Tech and controlled the game by running the football," Petrino said. "That will be a good challenge for our defense to have someone who really wants to come out and run the power running game at us."
Petrino said Monday that the experience of playing Kentucky's Boyd, who he compared to North Carolina's Durant, should provide his team good idea what they're up against this week.
"They're similar," said Petrino of Boyd and Durant. "Both of them have really strong arms and they're both good runners. But [Darian] is much more experienced than Shane. He's been playing a lot of games and he's done a nice job."
Through three games this season, North Carolina has proven to be a balanced offense attack, averaging 253 yards on the ground and 225 through the air. Still, the Tar Heels, especially Durant, have been slightly turnover prone, committing eight miscues on the season, including four interceptions from Durant.
"They'll really challenge our defense and we'll find out where we're at on defense this weekend," Petrino predicted. "It's going to be a tough game on the road against a team that feels good about themselves and can score a lot of points."