By Sam Draut
In its inaugural game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Louisville defeated Miami 31-13 in front of a record setting crowd of 55,428 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium Monday night.
It was the Cardinal defense that stole the show in head coach Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville. Miami was held to just 70 yards rushing and only 244 total yards of offense.
“I thought our defensive staff had a great plan going in and really worked hard at it,” Petrino said. “We tackled well and we got a lot of guys to the ball.”
Louisville closed out Miami drives on third down, the Hurricanes were just 1 of 13 on third down conversions.
“I felt like our crowd helped us a lot on third down. We were able to get after the quarterback and get off the field on third down,” Petrino said.
“They were doing an excellent job of stopping the run early in the game and forcing us into some third and longs,” Miami head coach Al Golden said. “Then we got behind and we had to play catchup. It’s hard to convert in those situations.”
Safety James Sample, a transfer from Washington led the Cardinals defense with eight tackles and an interception.
“That is just hard work in the film room. Finding out what the offense is going to do and studying on how to react. I owe a lot to that,” Sample said.
After a quick three and out in the Cardinal’s first drive of the season, sophomore quarterback Will Gardner led a 12 play 93 yard drive capped off with a two-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Charles Standberry.
Making his Cardinal debut as starting quarterback, Gardner was five-for-five for 50 yards during the drive.
“It was fun, completion after completion, we were getting guys wide open,” Gardner said. “I had good pass protection so we had fun.”
Gardner finished 20 of 28 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
“He did a great job and did a very good job managing the game. He got us in the right spots, and got us in the right checks,” Dominique Brown said. “People don’t understand that it’s a lot of pressure of being a quarterback and he held his own for this being his first start.”
Brown, a senior running back was the work horse for the offense on the night, carrying the ball a career high 33 times for 143 yards and a touchdown.
“Dominique had a great night, he is a big physical back,” Gardner said.
With Louisville leading Miami late in the fourth quarter, Brown helped to churn out the close out drive to put the Cardinals up 31-13.
The 14 play 67 yard drive that lasted 7:47 was capped off by a ten-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to tight end Gerald Christian. But it was Brown who carried the ball eight times, gaining 28 yards on the ground.
“We just wanted to wear them out in the fourth quarter,” Brown said. “Run and win, that is what we always preach.”
Miami held the lead only once in the game for a brief 14 seconds. After Hurricane kicker Matt Goudis hit a 24-yard field giving Miami a 10-7 lead at the 4:51 mark in the second quarter, the Cardinals responded quickly.
Corvin Lamb returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, giving Louisville a 14-10 lead.
“The kickoff return was a huge play for us. We were sitting right there and he was able to get it and take it to the house. He is a guy whose speed shows up every day,” Petrino said.
In his first game back since 2006, Petrino admitted to being more nervous for this game than any other he had ever coached.
But now, with an ACC win notched in his belt and Murray State on the slate for Saturday, Petrino’s second act is going just as planned.
“To win our opener in the ACC is a great way to get started,” Petrino said.
Photos by Austin Lassell