The consensus appears to be that the offensive line isn't getting the job done in the trenches and that the Cardinals need to find a dependable – and healthy – back that can elude would-be tacklers in the open field.
"We've got to block more consistently and the other thing we've got to do at running back is make guys miss," said Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe. "At this level of football you're not going to be able to block them all in certain front situations and you're not going to be able to block them for a long time because of the speed and athleticism of the players. So you have to make a guy miss. We've got to avoid tacklers and do a better job blocking potential tacklers."
"We're really more of a power run type of football team," Kragthorpe added. "Bilal has shown the ability to make people miss in the open field but Brock and Anthony are more downhill runners. George can do some things in terms of making people miss and he did a decent job of that the other night."
"It's a combination of a lot of things," Wood said. "You could probably put ineffective blocking at the top of the list. When one guy makes a mistake on each running play it doesn't become effective. It's been a theme all year is our running game hasn't worked in the first quarter and when our bigger backs could thrive in the fourth quarter on pounding the safety's we've kind of been down and had to throw to catch up."
The Cardinals have also endured several career-ending injuries at the right guard position this season. Brian Roche, who opened the season on the fourth-string, will make his third straight start against USF Saturday. Have injuries to Marcel Benson and Mike Donoghue hurt the cohesiveness of the line's play?
"Maybe," said Wood. "But I wouldn't say that's one of the main (problems) with the running game. The biggest thing is individual mistakes on plays. On the running game you've got to do the little things to hope that you can spring the back through a little hole. We're just not providing the holes right now upfront."
Injuries at the running back position aren't helping matters, either. Louisville's top two rushers on the season, sophomore Anthony Allen and junior Brock Bolen, have been banged up and not at full strength much of this season. Allen and Bolen combined for just six carries last Thursday in the Cardinals 38-31 loss to West Virginia.
"I think everybody is a little banged up right now," Kragthorpe said. "Brock has been banged up, (Anthony) has been banged up. Bilal (Powell) has been banged up. We wanted to play Bilal a little more at tailback the other night but he's been banged up. Sergio has been banged up."
The injury situation has meant a resurgence for junior George Stripling. Stripling, who was suspended for a game midseason, received a season-high 12 carries against the Mountaineers and also caught a team-high 8 passes for 105 yards.
"George has actually been the most healthy and that was evident in the way he played the other night," said Kragthorpe. "He played fast where the other guys didn't look like they were playing nearly as fast."
With the offensive line ineffective against West Virgina - U of L rushed for only 37 yards on 27 carries – Kragthorpe and offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs essentially made the decision to scrap the Cardinals rushing attack in favor of throwing screen passes to try to keep the Mountaineer defense off balance.
"When we got into the game…essentially what we said was that the screen pass was going to be a running play for us and we were pretty effective throwing the screen pass in the game," Kragthorpe said. "That was one of the ways we were able to minimize what they were doing from a blitz standpoint."
Can the screen play be an effective substitute for the running game?
"It can be," said Wood. "Screens are really good for offensive linemen because it slows down their pass rush. Screens are what some teams with wide-open offenses use to get to the running game but traditionally we'd like to run the football in a traditional manner."
A one-dimensional approach won't work this weekend against South Florida's athletic and physical defensive front. With two games remaining this season, Louisville likely needs to win both games over USF and Rutgers to get a tenth consecutive bowl bid. For the Cardinals to win out, Kragthorpe needs to find a way to jump start Louisville's anemic ground attack.
"Certainly you don't want to be one dimensional in any phase of the game," Kragthorpe said. "We don't want to be one dimensional on offense. We want to present challenges to the defense running the football and throwing the football. Certainly when you're running the football well a lot of the facets of your passing game come to life."
"It will be big for us to try to establish the run game early – that makes it easier for Brian and everybody," added Wood. "Against N.C. State we were able to control the game by running the ball. And we need to try and get back to that."