For the fourth straight week Louisville enters play in the national rankings, as the Cardinals get set to take on a winless Southern Miss squad at M. M. Roberts Stadium Saturday night.
The 19th-ranked Cardinals were the only team from the Big East in the top-25 coming into this season and have not fallen off with a 4-0 start to the season after a 28-21 victory over FIU last weekend. Louisville is now 4-0 for the first time since 2006. This matchup with Southern Miss is the final non-conference game of the season for the Cardinals who will open the Big East schedule on Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh.
"The toughness is there and it's everything you're looking for," head coach Charlie Strong said in comparing his seven-win team of last season to the current one. "Those games we were losing by seven last year, we're winning by seven this season. Now that you've had them in your program, they understand how to compete."
Its has not been a successful start to the season for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are still in search of their first win of the season after being routed 42-17 by Western Kentucky last weekend. It is the first time Southern Miss has started a season 0-3 since 1976.
Although not favored in this matchup Southern Miss holds the edge in the all time series with an 18-10-1 record all-time against Louisville. However, the Cardinals have dominated as of late with wins in the last five matchups.
Against FIU, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finally stumbled after a stellar beginning to the season. Bridgewater completed 19-of-36 passes, for 194 yards and a pair of scores to match two interceptions. The 17 incompletions Bridgewater had in the game were more than he had in the previous three games this season and the two interceptions were his first of the season. Even with the struggles Bridgewater is still the Big East leader in completion percentage (73.4), while throwing for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns.
Bridgewater has not relied heavily on any one receiver with six different players having at least nine receptions on the year. Andrell Smith is the team leader in receptions (14) and receiving yards (189), but is only averaging 47.2 yards per game.
Along with the effective passing game led by Bridgewater, the Cardinals also have a strong running game led by the tandem of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright. The two are currently ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Big East in rushing. Perry is the leader with 340 yards with three touchdowns, while Wright leads the team in rushing touchdowns (five) while picking up 305 yards.
With such a balanced attack Louisville has easily been able to score this season as it ranks at the top of the Big East at 33.5 ppg.
If Louisville hopes to keep climbing the national ranks some improvements on defense are in order. Louisville is only allowing 19.0 points per game but has had trouble keeping other teams from picking up yards, especially through the air. Currently the Cardinals rank last in the Big East in pass defense, allowing 991 yards this season.
In addition, Louisville has not been able to get a great deal of pressure, with only 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Cardinals have also only forced six turnovers this season while allowing a 47-percent conversion rate on third down.
"That's what you would like to see is getting the tackles for losses and sacks and get off the field on third downs," Strong said acknowledging how the lack of pressure has affected the pass defense. "They're completing some balls that we have to challenge. We have to challenge routes more."
The Conference USA has some weak offensive teams including the lowest scoring team in the country (Tulane, 7.3 points per game). Southern Miss has unfortunately been one of those squads with the team ranking third to last in the conference in 17 points per game. The Golden Eagles are also the second worst team in terms of total offense (282.7 ypg) in the conference.
Three different quarterbacks have gotten opportunities under center this season. Chris Campbell has made two starts, completing 51.4 percent of his passes for just 229 yards. Anthony Alford has completed only 34.6 percent of his passes for 108 yards in one start, while Ricky Lloyd has seen action in two games. All three took snaps in the loss to Western Kentucky.
Alford is brought in more often in running situations as he currently ranks second on the team in rushing yards (126), while scoring the only two rushing touchdowns of the season for the team. Desmond Johnson is the lead rusher, although at just 165 total yards.
Southern Miss has also been a weak defensive team, allowing 38.3 points and 473.3 yards per game. The Golden Eagles have especially struggled after halftime, as they have been outscored 56-7 in the third quarter this season. The defensive struggles have also been due to an inability to get off the field, with teams converting 58 percent of their attempts on third down.