By Dalton Ray–
In their most recent game, football shut down Kent State 42-3. The three points allowed is the fewest allowed in nearly two years.
The 2017 defense is statistically the worst Louisville has fielded in eight years. Underclassmen didn’t start the year getting a lot of playing time, but with the struggles, the coaching staff is shaking things up.
Leading the underclassmen is sophomore Johnathan Greenard and freshman Dorian Etheridge.
Etheridge is the starting inside linebacker and is second on the team with 21 in tackles. He said being a leader in tackles was a goal, but not something he expected.
Coming off the bench, Greenard provides a fierce pass rush. His high-energy play puts pressure on senior starters Trevon Young and James Hearns.
“I try to stay relentless. If you can’t get there just keep going,” Greenard said. “Most times when you start lacking someone else makes the play, so I try to make every play out there.”
Greenard leads the Cardinals with 5.0 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
In the 39-point win over Kent State, Louisville started two freshmen and several others hit the field soon after.
Coach Bobby Petrino said he liked the way his inexperienced handled their playing time.
Greenard says having underclassmen come out and perform is an impressive feat.
“It’s cool because you realize these kids are just getting out of high school to play at this level, like Dorian, came in early and just balled out,” Greenard said. “You’re not the only one doing the extra stuff in film, extra workouts, you’ve got younger guys doing the same thing.”
Highly-touted cornerback Yeast notched his first career start against Golden Flashes. TreSean Smith, another true freshman that has played, picked off a pass in his first career game against Purdue in the season opener.
Redshirt freshman Derek Dorsey is one of the first defensive lineman off the bench and has four tackles on the year.
Entering the game against Kent State, Louisville ranked 104th in total defense (452.7 yards per game) and 115th in scoring defense (36.7 points per game).
After playing the out-manned Golden Flashes, Louisville jumped to 64th in total defense and 85th in scoring. With Murray State on the horizon, expect those defensive numbers to improve again.
Louisville is looking for answers on the defensive end and giving new players opportunities is the only option before a scheme change.
Playing with underclassmen can be dangerous, but getting the guys reps in a two-week period of out-matched opponents is the best option.
Greenard and Etheridge have already proved they can play at this level, more may arise if given the chance.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal