Even though they have been teetering on the edge in the last couple of weeks, the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals have kept their perfect season rolling and will try to keep it up this week when they host the stumbling Temple Owls in a Big East matchup at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Two weeks ago, Temple was riding high with a perfect mark in Big East play and a record above .500. The Owls have since been in free fall with two straight blowout losses. The first was a 35-10 beating from Rutgers and the second a 47-17 rout at the hands of Pittsburgh last weekend. Temple is now 3-4 overall this season with a 2-2 split in conference play.
Cincinnati kept Louisville on the ropes all game last weekend but the Cardinals showed a ton of resiliency in rallying for a 34-31 win in overtime. The win moves the Cardinals to 8-0 on the season, the first time they have done that since 2006 when the team went 12-1 and made a trip to the Orange Bowl. The Cardinals are also 3-0 in Big East play which trails only 4-0 Rutgers in the conference standings.
Head coach Charlie Strong was proud of his team's tenacity in rallying from deficits of 17-7 and 24-14 but still thinks his team has its best days ahead.
"I just told them that. We're 8-0, but still we can go play so much better," Strong said. "We have yet to put together a 60 minute game. When is that going to happen? We need that to happen."
Temple might be the perfect team for Louisville to try to move to 9-0 against. The last time these two teams faced the Cardinals absolutely dominated in a 62-0 win in 2006. The Owls do have a 3-2 series edge, but the last of those wins came in 1983.
The Owls just don't seem to be able to get anything going offensively, at least with any consistency, this season. The Owls are last in the conference in total offense (294.4 ypg) and second to last in scoring (23.1 ppg). The issue has been that Temple has no real semblance of a passing game. The Owls are not only the worst passing team in the Big East, but the fourth worst in the entire country (132.7 ypg).
The lack of passing has put extra pressure on the run game. In the past four weeks Montel Harris has played well. Harris has rushed for 428 of his total 463 rushing yards in the last four weeks, although he struggled for only 72 against Pittsburgh, the lowest total during that stretch. Harris has taken over the feature back role, but will be called on even more with Matt Brown out with an injury.
No change at the quarterback position seems imminent, but Chris Coyer still needs to improve. He has thrown for eight touchdowns and only three interceptions, but only has 870 yards passing and a 55.0 percent completion percentage. Head coach Steve Addazio utilizes his quarterback in the run game, as Coyer has 354 yards rushing this season.
In terms of pass catchers, Jalen Fitzpatrick (22 receptions, 291 yards) and Cody Booth (12 receptions, 108 yards) are the only players with double-digit receptions this season.
The defense has been no better for the Owls, who rank last in the conference in total defense (407.7 ypg) and second to last in scoring defense (27.7 ppg). The Owls don't create many negative plays, tied for last in the conference in tackles for loss (36).
Tyler Matakevich has risen to the top of the roster in tackles as he has led the team for four straight weeks in the category. He how has 56 stops this season, which along with Nate D. Smith's 51, accounts for the only Owls players to have reached the 50-tackle plateau this season. John Youboty is the team's best pass rusher with team-highs in sacks (3.0) and 4.0 tackles for loss.
Teddy Bridgewater has been the steady hand that has kept Louisville going this season. The sophomore quarterback has completed a conference best 70.7 percent of his pass attempts, for 2,110 yards and 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Bridgewater was sensational in the Cardinals' comeback against Cincinnati, throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and leading the game-winning drive in overtime.
DeVante Parker caught both of those touchdown passes in racking up 120 yards through the air, his second game with 100 yards receiving this season. Parker has been electric, turning just 20 receptions this season into 457 yards and four touchdowns. Damian Copeland has been the more reliable receiver with a team-high 28 receptions for 358 yards.
"They believe in one another. When you look at our offense; when you have a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater and you have the receivers like Andrell (Smith), DeVante (Parker), and you look at (Damian) Copeland; we have players that can make plays," Strong said about his offense.
Passing the ball hasn't been all the Cardinals have succeeded in this season. Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright have been a solid rushing tandem. The pair have been slowed in recent weeks but have combined for 1,175 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Perry is the leader with 624 yards and 11 touchdowns. The two have helped power a Cardinal rushing attack that has accounted for the most touchdowns (21) in a season since 2007.
Despite being at the top of the conference in terms of wins and losses, Louisville has been an average defensive squad. The Cardinals are the fourth ranked unit in total defense (340.8 ypg) and fifth in scoring (23.0 ppg). Turnovers have been even less of an issue for the Cardinals with the team second in the conference in turnovers margin (+five).
Safety Calvin Pryor and the rest of the secondary have been the strength of the unit. Pryor has a team-high 61 tackles this season and has also collected a pair of interceptions. Fellow safety Hakeem Smith is third on the team with 43 tackles. Marcus Smith (5.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks) and Lorenzo Mauldin (5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) are the team's top defenders up front.