Slumping Cards struggling on offense

Louisville (5-6, 1-5) has finished in the Top 10 in total offense each of the past five seasons. Though the Cardinals still have one regular-season game remaining Thursday night at Rutgers (6-5, 4-2), that impressive streak will come to an end this season.

Known for high-flying offenses that light up scoreboards, the Louisville offense hasn't flown as high this season as it has in the past. The Cardinals currently rank 43rd nationally in total offense at 382 yards per game – Louisville's lowest output since 2001.

Louisville's offensive numbers are even worse on the road this season (the Cards averaged 27 points and 406 yards in eight home games) – where the Cardinals have lost 2 of 3 games and are averaging only 21 points and 316 total yards per game.

Now the Cardinals are off to face Rutgers, a team that has allowed just 12 points in its last three games.

Since defeating USF 24-20 Oct. 25, Louisville's offense has dropped off significantly. In the Cardinals last four games – all losses – Louisville is averaging just 17.8 points and 362 yards per game. The Cardinals averaged 30.4 points in its first seven games – jumping out to a 5-2 start.

Scoring has been a major problem for this team in recent weeks.

Though Louisville has out-scored opponents 108-57 in the second quarter, the Cardinals have been out-scored in the other three quarters 238-174 this season. In the fourth quarter alone, Louisville has been out-scored 103-64 this season. They've been out-scored in 7 of 11 games in the final period.

"We're frustrated with productivity in terms of points," Steve Kragthorpe said.

Louisville's offense has neither been dangerous to start the game – a hallmark of Bobby Petrino's team's – nor do they seem to be making adjustments at intermission that either puts the defense on its heels or points on the board in the decisive final period. Without an explosive offense putting points on the board at break-neck speed, the Cardinals have little wiggle room for errors and miscues.

Victor Anderson has been a bright
spot for the UofL offense.

That leads to another major problem - turnovers.

Ball protection has been particularly troublesome for the Louisville offense. In six losses, the Cardinals have committed 22 turnovers; in five wins just six turnovers. Hunter Cantwell has been the chief culprit, throwing 15 interceptions.

UofL's opponents have also returned six turnovers for touchdowns – helping put the Cardinals even further behind the eight-ball. Louisville ranks No. 108 nationally in turnover margin – a killer stat for a team with small margin for error.

"You can overcome them but your margin for error shrinks," Kragthorpe said.

During UofL's most recent four game losing streak, Louisville's opponents have scored 31 points off turnovers. That's way too many points to gift-wrap for an offense that has been forced to punt 21 times the past four games – more than five per game.

"We've got to find a way to minimize the turnovers. We've got to take good care of the football," said Kragthorpe. "I've always preached turnover margin as the stat most indicative of your won-loss record. And that's been the case for us this year."

Despite the problems on offense there have been some bright spots for the Cardinals. Freshman running back Victor Anderson has rushed for 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns, while sophomore wide receiver Doug Beaumont leads the team with 54 receptions for 653 yards.

Anderson, Beaumont and the Louisville offense now hope to put it all together against a Rutgers defense that ranks 10th nationally in scoring, 20th in total defense, 15th in pass efficiency defense and 32nd in turnover margin.

"They're hot right now," Kragthorpe said of Rutgers. "I think they're playing their best football right now. They turned the ball over early in the year like us. Now they've done a good minimizing (those). "

If they don't perform better on offense, Louisville likely will drop its fifth straight game and end the season with a 5-7 record (1-6 in the Big East) – the program's first losing season since Ron Cooper's final one in 1997. A win over the Scarlet Knights would make the Cardinals bowl eligible at 6-6, though it wouldn't guarantee UofL a slot in the post-season.

"We want to win this game and get a chance to play a 13th game," Kragthorpe said. "I'd love nothing more than to be able to take these guys on a [bowl] trip."

Key Stats:
282 – That's how many points Louisville has scored this season, their lowest season total in 15 years.

206.9 – That's Louisville's passing yards per game this season, the lowest total since 1992.

Time 7:30 Location Piscataway, N.J. Television ESPN

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