I know my opinion might seem odd, but hear me out. West Virginia's game plan coming in was to eliminate the big play and the quick strike from the Louisville offense. The Cardinals excel at executing big plays, and that ability was something the Mountaineer defensive staff wanted to combat. So, for much of the game, WVU dropped defenders deep and made sure Cardinal receivers didn't get behind them.
Of course, there were some drawbacks to this approach, as there are with any plan. The first was that Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm was able to wait on receivers to come open without a great deal of pressure, as WVU often dropped seven or eight defenders into coverage. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel did blitz from time to time, but for the most part the Mountaineers concentrated on not yielding huge chunks of yardage.
The strategy also allowed Louisville to control the ball more than they normally do, and while that seemed counterproductive, it was certainly preferable to giving up 40- or 50-yard touchdown passes. For the game, Louisville's longest passing play covered just twenty yards - a considerable achievement against the Cards' potent passing attack. Brohm and company did try to go downfield on several occasions, but not once did the West Virginia secondary permit a receiver to get open deep. And while Brohm put up impressive numbers (31-49, 277 yards, 2 TDs), he was never able to generate the dagger thrust of a quick strike score that could have blown the game open.
West Virginia also had trouble tackling running back Michael Bush, but that was certainly no different than the Cardinals had in containing freshman sensation Steve Slaton. Bush's 159 yards were certainly noteworthy, but it did take him 37 carries to reach that figure. His average of 4.3 yards per carry was good, but not good enough to turn the game in his team's favor.
WVU's master plan, to make the Cardinals earn every yard and not yield quick scores, was evident in the final stats, but it took a bit of digging to find it, because it wasn't reflected in obvious areas such as total yardage. Louisville's four scoring drives required a total of 52 plays – an average of 13 snaps per drive. While such ball control usually doesn't bode well for a defense, in this case, it wasn't the detriment it usually is.
Finally, the point totals in the game were skewed by the overtime period. Although the game is about winning, not stats, I've always thought that counting statistics earned in overtime is somewhat unfair, especially to the defense, which is placed in a difficult position at the start of every series. One thing that does is skew yardage and point totals away from providing a true picture of the game, and that certainly occurred in this contest. West Virginia yielded just 24 points in regulation – again, a fine achievement against the high-scoring Cardinals. Following UL's final score of regulation in the middle of the third quarter, West Virginia allowed the visitors just 30 yards over their next four possessions.
While I'm sure the defense will identify a number of shortcomings in their performance against the Cardinals, its play was actually one of the big reasons the Mountaineers were able to mount their gritty comeback. WVU executed its game plan well, and while no one will ever say that a 459-yard day is a dominating performance, it certainly ended up being a winning one.