It's been a case of Jekyll and Hyde for the Louisville defense in their first two games this season. Frankly, before halftime, Mike Cassity's troops have been downright pathetic. Two weeks ago, 1-AA Murray State strung together two long first half drives, slicing through the U of L defense for a touchdown and a field goal. If the effort against the Racers was a bad dream, the first half last Thursday against Middle Tennessee was a nightmare.
Keep in mind, the Blue Raiders were stopped cold by Florida Atlantic in their season opener while falling 27-13 to the Owls. None of that mattered against Louisville, though. Middle Tennessee came out against the Cardinals and hung 35 points on the U of L defense – in the first half.
improvement against Kentucky.
"Defensively, obviously we've got to get lined up, tackle and get guys on the ground when we have a chance to do it and minimize big plays," Kragthorpe said. "The biggest thing is we've got to minimize big plays. We may give up a touchdown drive, but it can't be in one, two or three plays. We have to minimize the effect and the amount of big plays that we're giving up."
But as bad as Louisville's defense has been in the first half, the Cardinals have been able to turn things around after halftime. In four second half quarters in the season's first two games, Louisville's only allowed one touchdown – a 79 yard run against MTSU in which two U of L defenders missed tackles near the line of scrimmage.
"I felt like we played fairly solid defense in the second with the exception of the one play where we had the guy down and we let him out and he ran 79 yards for a touchdown," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "But I thought we stepped up and made some plays."
While Louisville hasn't been able to get pressure on the quarterback in the first two games - the Cardinals have only one sack on the season – they have still managed to force turnovers. Louisville notched a pair of interceptions against MTSU, one by linebacker Malik Jackson at the goal line to prevent a second half touchdown. The Cards created four turnovers against MTSU, and have five on the season.
"Coming out of the Middle Tennessee game there are a number of things we feel we need to improve upon to be the team that we want to be," Kragthorpe said. "I think our team understands that we didn't play anywhere near as good as we're capable of the other night and we've got to play a lot better this week if we want to go compete against a very good Kentucky team."
Can Louisville get their defensive problems solved before tangling with a Kentucky offense Satruday night that is averaging 53 points per game?
"I'm very confident it can be fixed," Kragthorpe said. "We've got to do a better job communicating when we're out on the field, we've got to get guys lined up and in position to make plays, and when we're in position to make plays we've got to make those plays."
Though Kragthorpe wasn't specific, he hinted that personnel changes might be in the offing for his struggling defense.
"There could be personnel changes on offense, defense and special teams," Kragthorpe said. "That's what we'll determine during the course of practice this week is who are we most efficient with at all of the positions we'll field Saturday night."
MITCHELL COMES UP BIG IN FIRST START
Junior defensive end Maurice Mitchell made his first career start against Middle Tennessee and made a difference on the field. Mitchell, who replaced sophomore Deantwan Whitehead in the starting lineup, recorded a career-best four tackles, made two tackles for loss and recovered and caused a fumble against MTSU.