On a chilly and damp Saturday afternoon against Big East foe Temple, the script appeared to be following it's usual course. The visiting Owls, who entered the game on the heals of consecutive losses to Rutgers and Pittsburgh, finished the first quarter even with the favored Cardinals.
After Temple notched the score at 17-17 with 11:30 remaining the first half, the alarm went off on the Louisville sideline. The Cardinals offense would move down the field with ease and the defense kept the Owls out of the end zone for the remainder of the game, as U of L cruised to a 45-17 victory.
"I just look at our program, and we are sitting here at 9-0, and we are still not anywhere near where we should be," said third-year head coach Charlie Strong. "I mean, if you look at that game today and the way we started off, I was like, "Oh goodness. That is an 8-0 football team out there playing?" I could not believe it was."
Believe it or not, Louisville is 9-0 for the first time in school history. As one of only five FBS programs remaining undefeated, it sits atop the Big East Conference standings, is among the BCS top ten and climbing. The Cardinals have done all this with one of the nation's youngest teams and in frequent poor weather conditions. Better yet, they've reached these milestones with a team that has yet to play to it's potential.
Louisville scored on 7 of it's 10 possessions during the first three quarters with Teddy Bridgewater behind center and before shifting into kill the clock mode during the fourth quarter. The Cardinals moved with ease, racking up 508 yards of offense, 492 yards coming before the fourth quarter.
Tight end Ryan Hubbell's 72-yard touchdown late in the first quarter was a momentum changer. Selected as CardinalAuthority.com's Play of the Game, the touchdown brought U of L even with Temple on the scoreboard.
Following two sub-par outings, the U of L ground game returned, gaining 207. Jeremy Wright reached 100 yards on 10 carries. The junior scored his 9th rushing touchdown of the season midway through the second quarter, which gave the Cardinals a 24-17 lead.
Another game and another one of the many U of L receivers shines. This time it was senior Andrell Smith who grabbed the highlights with two touchdown catches. Smith finished with 4 catches for 61 yards. Damian Copeland led the Cardinals with 5 catches. DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers both hauled touchdown passes.
Completing 68% of his attempts, throwing for 324 yards, a career-high 5 touchdowns, all without an interception has moved Teddy Bridgewater into first in the Big East and 5th in the nation for passing efficiency. Directed by the highest rated sophomore in the nation, the U of L offense passing efficiency rating has reached it's highest ranking of the season, climbing to 9th in the nation.
Bend, but don't break. Louisville's defense was aware, but didn't seem to believe that the Temple offense is essentially a running game. For much of the game, the Owls had the appearance of a team that was among the nation's best running the ball. While they rate slightly above average nationally, the Owls gained 255 yards on the ground. Montrel Harris, who entered the game averaging just over 60 yards a game, ran for over 100 during the first half.
Despite it's woes stopping the run, the Cardinals defense kept Temple scoreless in the second half and allowed just 10 points in the game. It did so by forcing and recovering four fumbles.
"The way we started off this day, I didn't know if I would have a chance to stand up here talking about going 9-0," said Strong. "When you watch this team, Temple took The Opening kickoff all the way back. Then our offense gets a chance to move the ball, and defensively we didn't play well. We missed way too many tackles which allowed them to run the ball effectively in the first half. Then you watch the second half, we come out like a totally different defense."
Linebacker Preston Brown, last week's Big East Defensive Player of the Week, led the Cardinals with 10 tackles, including one for a loss. Freshman linebacker Keith Brown continues his strong play, totaling 8 tackles. He also forced and recovered a fumble.
The defensive front registered two sacks, with Deiontrez Mount and Marcus Smith each getting to the quarterback.
The play of the special teams continues to be a growing area of concern. The Cardinals entered the game as one of the nation's worst in kickoff coverage and allowing Temple to return the game's opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown won't improve the ranking. The Owls averaged over 32 yards a return on Saturday.
Punt return coverage hasn't been much better and it continued to struggle against the Owls, allowing over 13 yards per return.
While it has it's glaring concerns, the play of the special teams does have it's bright spots. Kicker John Wallace is having a great season. The red shirt freshman connected on a 36-yard field goal and was a perfect 6-for-6 with his extra points. Ryan Johnson continues to be effective punting the ball.
The Cardinals 45-17 win over Temple was the team's best all-around performance of the season, but still a good distance away from how they can perform. Sure, Louisville was supposed to win handily against Temple. However, it was also suppose to do the same to FIU, Southern Miss and others, but hasn't. For the first time since early September the final score resembled the pre-game expectations.
It wasn't the complete performance that the coaches are searching for, but it was the closest it's been all season.
Up next for Louisville (9-0, 4-0) is a trip to the Carrier Dome to face Big East rival Syracuse (4-5, 3-2).