September 18, 2016

How high can the Cardinals fly?

Cardinal players celebrate after the U of L touchdown.

By Dalton Ray–

U of L fans are currently at an all-time high. One year removed from feeling the misery of an 0-3 start, the Cardinals are now 3-0 and are ranked No. 3 in the nation. Players and coach Bobby Petrino said after the Florida State game, that they’re taking every team seriously and taking everything a game at a time.

But, the question is still there: how far can this team go?

Will U of L derail before the season is over? Will the Cards drop one game against a lesser opponent and fall just short of a conference championship? Or, is the first Louisville football team to ever be crowned a national champion?

The Cards are hot right now, arguably the hottest in the nation with Alabama. The play of quarterback Lamar Jackson has lit a fire in the fan base. The players around Jackson are making plays, the defense is smothering opposing offenses and U of L is lighting up scoreboards.

The offense has finally reached the expectations that have been placed on Petrino since his return. Through three games, the offense is averaging 65 points a game, which leads the nation. The 2,038 total yards on offense also ranks first in the country. U of L’s 91 first downs is second-ranked of 128 teams.

Jackson is currently averaging 459 total yards and six touchdowns per game. While Jackson is the leading Heisman candidate, he’s not the only Cardinal stepping up on the offense.

Brandon Radcliff has 296 yards on 27 carries, 11 yards per carry. The senior has back-to-back 100-yard games and is a large reason why Louisville is second in the nation in rushing yards. Receivers Jamari Staples, James Quick and Jaylen Smith are averaging over 20 yards per catch.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisville has simply been lights out. The Cardinals are only allowing three yards per carry on the ground, despite just playing one of the nation’s best running backs in Dalvin Cook. Opposing quarterbacks are only completing 48.6-percent of their passes, 14th highest in the nation.

The secondary has provided great pass coverage but has been given great support from the Cardinal’s pass-rush. Louisville’s 13 sacks in fifth in the nation, James Hearns leads with 3.5. The U of L’s leading tackles are Chucky Williams (24), Keith Kelsey (20) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (18). The trio are constantly around the ball and fly all over the field.

One of the biggest keys to success for Louisville so far is the damage they’ve been doing on first and second down. Todd Grantham’s defense has done a great job of creating negative-yardage plays or short gains, forcing teams into third and long situations. Opponents are 12-for-49 on the year on third down, only 24.9-percent.

Louisville is playing with the perfect mix currently. The offense is creating explosive plays and lighting up the scoreboard. The defense is causing havoc and getting off the field, keeping the ball in Jackson’s hands. Even special teams is clicking for U of L. How long Louisville can keep up this performance is the question. One thing is certain: Louisville is one of the most dangerous teams in the nation.

Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal

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