U of L offense one of nation's most balanced units

While the University of Louisville defense has captured the headlines in the early going this season with two shutouts, the Cardinal offense has quietly established itself as one of the nation's most balanced attacks.

Before the start of the 2004 season, no one would have dared predict the University of Louisville would shutout two of its first three opponents.

But that's exactly what the Cardinals accomplished against both Kentucky and North Carolina, two of U of L's BCS-conference opponents.

And while the improved defense and they're remarkable feats in the early going have dominated the headlines, especially after downing the Tar Heels 34-0 last Saturday in Chapel Hill, Louisville has once again established itself as one of the nation's most balanced offensive attacks.

"Offensively, I think it was the best we've executed this year," Petrino said of last Saturday's effort against North Carolina. "We didn't have as many possessions in the first half because we were using up so much of the clock. Then in the second half I think we scored every time we had the ball except for the last possession when we ran the clock out."

Petrino's offense is one of three units nationally averaging better than 250 rushing yards and 230 passing yards per game, California and Tennessee being the others. It's been that type of balanced attack that has kept oppenents off-guard and allowed a veteran Cardinals offense to average 38 points through the first three games.

"I think our running game is executing the way we want," Petrino said. "And we're throwing the ball for a very high percentage."

Led by a big and experienced offensive line, U of L's top four running backs, Michael Bush, Eric Shelton, Lionel Gates and Kolby Smith are each averaging better than 4.8 yards per carry. That production with the running game has taken pressure off of quarterbacks Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm, both of whom are completing better than 70-percent of their passes and is a key reason why the Cardinals have dominated the time of possession in each game this season, including a 13-minute advantage against Carolina.

"I thought we would have to throw the ball more than we have but we're really working the offense and defense together tyring to play off of each other," Petrino explained. "We've tried to control the ball and get some three and outs on defense. But I'm most happy about our time of possession and our first downs compared to our opponents and the fact that we're very balanced."

Ranked among the best unit's nationally in rushing offense (256 ypg., 11th), total offense (488 ypg., 11th) and scoring offense (38 ppg., 13th), one area that concerns Petrino, if only slightly, has been the offenses lack of producing big plays in the early season.

"I'm getting nervous because we haven't had as many big plays as we want," Petrino explained. "But that might be because we're running the ball so much and that's helping us keep [the opponent's] offense on the sidelines."

And when you're looking for an explanation to the Cardinal defenses turnaround so far this season, you can't neglect the fact that the U of L offense has played a considerable role in that unit's improvement by keeping opposing offenses on the sideline.

As the old saying goes, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. At least through three games this season, that appears to be the case for the University of Louisville.

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