After a three-game road trip, the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals will finally be back in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, as they square off with the South Florida Bulls in a Big East tilt Saturday afternoon.
South Florida was considered a contender for the Big East title this season but the Bulls have not lived up to that with just a 2-4 overall record entering this game. That has included a four-game losing streak, including a 37-28 loss to Temple, which is in its return season to the Big East. The Bulls were idle last weekend and at 0-2 in Big East play, need to come out of the bye with some renewed vigor.
"We got to find productivity on the field and we got to put the guys in there that are going to play with the heart, passion, energy, excitement and enthusiasm that its going to take to get a win," head coach Skip Holtz said.
Even though Louisville has been away from home in its last three games it has not slowed the Cardinals down. Louisville is now 6-0 this season, including a 1-0 mark against conference foes after a 45-35 win at Pittsburgh last weekend. The Cardinals are 6-0 for the first time since 2006 when the squad started 8-0. The Cardinals' No. 16 ranking is their highest since 2007.
Since these schools have only been fellow conference members since 2005 there is not a great deal of history with only nine previous meetings. South Florida holds a slim 5-4 edge in those games, although the two have split each of the last four meetings. South Florida pulled out a 24-21 win in overtime the last time the two faced, which was also at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
On offense South Florida has been exceptional in taking advantage of its opportunities in the red zone. The Bulls have scored on 93.8 percent of their chances from inside the 20. However South Florida has not been able to get into the red zone frequently enough to take advantage. The Bulls have the second fewest red zone attempts (16) in the conference. The Bulls are scoring only 25.2 points per game on 401.3 yards of total offense.
Turnovers have been a killer for the offense as well and quarterback B.J. Daniels has been responsible for a number of those miscues. Despite producing 1,504 yards and 10 passing touchdowns this season, Daniels has completed only 56.0 percent of his attempts and has been intercepted eight times. When he can hold onto the ball, Daniels is a dangerous player as he can also take off and create on the run, with 277 yards and four touchdowns rushing.
Daniels has favored the services of Andre Davis and Terrence Mitchell as pass catchers this season. Davis has a team-high 26 receptions and three touchdowns to go with 333 yards, while Mitchell has a team-high 339 yards on 23 receptions.
Demetris Murray and Lindsay Lamar have shared the bulk of the workload out of the backfield. Murray has 82 carries for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Lamar is a bit more dynamic with 220 yards rushing to go with 115 yards receiving. Lamar's 5.4 yards-per-carry is also the best on the team among players with at least 10 rushes.
If it can avoid turnovers the offense has shown itself to be competent. The same cannot be said about South Florida's defense. The Bulls are ranked last in the Big East in points allowed (27.5 ppg) and second to last in total defense (390.7 ypg). Part of that comes from the offense constantly giving opposing squads extra possessions by turning the ball over.
DeDe Lattimore is the team leader in a number of categories, including tackles (47), tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (2.5). Lattimore's efforts in the pass rush have fueled a largely stagnant pass rush with 12 sacks thus far.
Louisville has relied on a rather balanced effort on offense during the first half of the season. The Cardinals are one of just two teams in the Big East to have both 1,000 yards rushing (1,002) and passing (1,453). Overall, the Cardinals are right in the middle in terms of yards per game (409.2), but have taken advantage in scoring situations, effectively ranking second in scoring (33.3 ppg) in the conference.
Leading the way for the offense is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The sophomore has completed a Big East leading 71.8 percent of his passes, for 1,438 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His completion percentage has dropped over the last three games.
Bridgewater has been most impressive in his ability to spread the ball around. He has completed at least 10 passes to seven different players this season. DeVante Parker (15 receptions, 319 yards, 2 TDs) is the team's leader after a four-reception, 153-yard effort against Pittsburgh. Damian Copeland is the leader in terms of receptions, with 18 for only 169 yards.
If teams have begun to figure out Bridgewater they have not done so with the running back tandem of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright. The pair have combined for 1,009 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Perry has been the more productive, especially recently, with 559 yards and nine touchdowns. Six of those scores and 219 of those yards have come in the last two games.
Under head coach Charlie Strong, Louisville has been a solid, if not overly impressive defensive team this season. The Cardinals are allowing 331.2 yards and 21.3 points per game which ranks third and fourth, respectively in the Big East. That production has belied Louisville's inability to create pressure and force turnovers. Louisville has only 10 sacks and 26 tackles for loss this season, which are both the worst marks in the Big East. The Cardinals are also last in interceptions (two), while recovering six fumbles.
The three leading tacklers on the team all play in the secondary. Calvin Pryor is the leader with 46 stops, while Adrian Bushell (32) and Hakeem Smith (32) are tied for second. Lorenzo Mauldin and Terell Floyd have combined for 4.5 of the team's sacks.
Louisville is in the midst of one of its best seasons in years, but Strong knows that his team needs to remain focused to keep the good times rolling.
"We know that South Florida is going to be another challenge for us because they are a team that is extremely talented with a lot of seniors," Strong said. "We cannot lose our focus, we have to execute, and we have to finish. We know each game is going to be like this in this league."