18th-ranked Cardinals set sights on Bulls in AAC action

Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - After suffering their first loss of the season, the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals will do all they can to bounce back in an American Athletic Conference matchup with the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.

The Cardinals were cruising along, leading 28-7, midway through the third quarter at home against UCF last Friday night. Then the unthinkable happened. The Cardinals were unable to slow down the Knights in the second half as they fell in a 38-35 decision. The loss was a devastating one for the Cardinals, who dropped all the way to No. 18 in the national rankings and are all but out of the BCS National Title conversation.

"Our goals are still there and we still have a chance to win the conference," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said after the loss. "We've got to continue to play well and get better. We can improve. We've still got some ways to improve and this game was a good measuring stick for us because that was a very good football team."

One of the teams that Louisville is now behind in the conference standings is USF, which enters play with a 2-0 mark in league action. Those two wins came by a combined nine points with the most recent a 13-10 victory over the winless Connecticut Huskies. Prior to the short winning streak the Bulls had been struggling with four straight losses to open the campaign.

"We understand there is a challenge with the University of Louisville coming in here. They're a really talented football team in every aspect," USF head coach Willie Taggart said.

A year ago USF nearly knocked off the Cardinals but a late rally ended the upset hopes as the Cardinals escaped with a 27-25 victory. The win evened the all-time series between the programs at five wins apiece.

The blame for Louisville's loss against UCF really can't be placed on the offense. The Cardinals finished with 445 yards and the 35 points were right in range of their scoring average for the season (40.1 ppg).

Teddy Bridgewater was strong in the contest, completing 76.3 percent of his pass attempts for 341 yards and two touchdowns. With the two passing scores Bridgewater improved his program-record for games with a touchdown pass to 19. On the year Bridgewater has largely lived up to the hype he garnered in the offseason, as he has completed better than 70 percent of his pass attempts for 2,213 yards, 20 touchdowns and just a pair of interceptions.

DeVante Parker returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him the previous week to bring in five passes for 66 yards and a score against UCF. Parker (26 receptions, 441 yards, seven touchdowns) is the most dangerous receiver in a group that has been extremely productive. Damian Copeland (28 receptions, 423 yards, three TDs), Eli Rogers (27 receptions, 391 yards, four TDs) and Kai De La Cruz (15 receptions, 271 yards, three TDs) are all extremely talented as well.

The running game also enjoys the benefit of having a number of players it can rely on. Senorise Perry (420 yards, five scores) is the leading rusher but was limited to just 18 yards against UCF. Dominique Brown (359 yards, four TDs) piled up 88 yards and two scores, while Michael Dyer (223 yards, two TDs) has been a solid third choice.

The downfall of the Cardinals came on defense. The AAC's leading team in total defense (260.4 ypg) surrendered 446 yards of offense to the Knights, while allowing them to convert on 5-of-11 chances on third down. The Cardinals were also held without a sack for the first time this season, as Lorenzo Mauldin (seven sacks) and Marcus Smith (six sacks) were kept in check.

In the two wins that USF has managed it has certainly not been the offense that has done much. In fact of the 39 points scored in the two victories, none was actually scored by the offense as the Bulls have three defensive touchdowns and six field goals from Marvin Kloss in those two games.

The Bulls are clearly a team in need of improvement on offense. They have gotten very little from their quarterbacks, as both Bobby Eveld (35-of-91, 433 yards, two TDs, two INTs) and Steven Bench (22-of-52, 324 yards, two TDs, two INTs) have struggled. USF is the only team in the conference to have yet to reach 1,000 yards passing.

Normally the offense has been able to rely on Marcus Shaw, who has been stellar at running back for the Bulls. However, Shaw and his 6.4 yards per carry average were absent last week as he dealt with a hamstring injury, an injury that has him listed as questionable for this weekend's contest. Michael Pierre (116 yards) is the backup that will be relied on should Shaw remain sidelined.

While the offense has been struggling, the defense for the Bulls has been impressive. Though they are letting up more than 30 points per game, the Bulls rank fourth in the league in total defense (360.5 ypg). Obviously the back-to- back weeks with defensive touchdowns has shown how disruptive the unit can be, especially when DeDe Lattimore (56 tackles) is around the ball.