November 13, 2016

Despite win, aggressive defense could spell trouble for Louisville

By Jordan Shim-

The No. 5 Louisville football team defeated Wake Forest 44-12 in their final conference game. The final score would be what everybody had expected coming into the game. However, the game did not go the way Bobby Petrino had planned.

A first half that consisted of three fumbles lost, two punts and a field goal, Louisville was very fortunate to go into halftime down just 12-3. The offense was out of sync and the defense had trouble with Wake Forest’s up-tempo offense.

U of L recovered and found their rhythm in the second half. Running lanes opened up for Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff to carry the offense. Jackson finished with 153 rushing yards and Radcliff erupted with 141 yards, 122 in the second half. A 34-point fourth quarter erased their bad start and distanced a game that felt much closer.

Despite the victory, there are red flags. Additionally, there are takeaways to make fans confident about the Cards’ chances of being ranked in the top four.

Grantham’s defense

Another game where the Cardinals were heavily favored to win, the game was much closer than expected. Wake Forest had success moving the football early against U of L.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham plays an aggressive style. His blitzes pressures the offense to create turnovers. But when a team blitzes, there is going to be open space down the field for the quarterback to exploit.

In the first half, Wake Forest took advantage of this. Whenever Grantham dialed up a blitz, Wake Forest’s quarterback John Wolford patiently waited and scrambled to the open spaces. The running backs were able to beat the blitz by hitting the holes made by their offensive linemen to get into the open field.

The Demon Deacons took full advantage running 40 total offensive plays, 30 of which were rushing. They converted short yardage situations hitting the holes in the field resulting in 12 first downs.

Bend but don’t break

Despite the success Wake Forest enjoyed in the first half, Petrino should be pleased the defense held the Deacons to field goals while threatening in the redzone. If Wake Forest had an impact offensive player, the deficit would have been much greater. The fact that the defense held the Demon Deacons to field goals was a victory in itself.

With a nine point deficit, the Cardinals could continue to run their style of offense. Had Wake Forest converted a few of their drives into touchdowns, it would have changed the game plan for Louisville coming into the second half. Petrino may have opted to throw the ball more, and that may have been problematic. Jackson struggled in the air, completing just 4-of-9 passes for 46 yards in the first half. His third quarter was worse, going 1-for-7 for 11 yards.

The defense gave the offense more chances in the second half as they held Wake Forest to 37 yards of offense. The defense held up when the offense needed them to, and ultimately kept Louisville in the game to find their rhythm and get going.

Blueprint to beating Louisville

Today’s style of college football with the spread offense caters specifically to Jackson’s explosive style. His dual-threat capabilities allow him to impact the game in every way possible as he leads the nation with 46 touchdowns.

Opposing defenses should not have to gameplan for Jackson because there is only one way to stop him: keep him off the field.

Games against Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest this season were games fans expected a comfortable victory. However, all three played the game of keep away from the Cardinals. All won the time of possession of battle. As a result, Louisville had to rely on making plays late to come out victors.

Teams that excel at smash mouth football can give Louisville difficulties. Wake Forest rushed the ball 30 times in the first half, and dominated the time of possession battle, 21:19 to 8:41. They ended the game with over 38 minutes of possession, forcing the Louisville defense to be on the field for 73 plays.

Photo by Mike Henderson / The Louisville Cardinal

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