Louisville, KY – The 19th-ranked Louisville Cardinals attempt to climb up the national rankings in arguably the biggest test of the early season, as they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Although the Tar Heels are just 1-1 they are a strong football team that lost in a tight road contest to ACC and instate rival Wake Forest last weekend. The decision came down to the last few minutes with the Demon Deacons adding the winning score with just over two minutes remaining. North Carolina suffered without lead rusher Giovani Bernard in the game and it is unclear if he will be available for this matchup, although head coach Larry Fedora is optimistic.
"I don't think he will ever not be ready. He wants to be out there on every snap," Fedora said while adding how Bernard's absence effected the team, "There's no doubt (we missed him). You have a player of his caliber and is such a big part of what we do offensively."
The Heels will really need every advantage they can get against Louisville, which has looked impressive through the first two weeks of the season. After posting a 32-14 rout of instate rival Kentucky, the Cardinals followed up with a decisive 35-7 win over Missouri State. Louisville is now 38-18 against non-conference opponents since 2002. With the win the Cardinals moved up from No. 23 to the 19th-spot in the national polls.
This game will give each side a chance to split a 3-3 tie in the all-time series. North Carolina won the last meeting 14-7 in a tight contest in Chapel Hill last season. The Cardinals won the two previous matchups before that loss.
Currently North Carolina is ranked second in the ACC in scoring (44.5 ppg) but that is largely due to a 62-0 win over FCS opponent Elon in week one. In last weekend's loss to Wake Forest the Heels were held to a more pedestrian 27 points on 428 total yards, which narrowly edged Wake Forest's production (426). The real difference in the game was in the red zone. While North Carolina twice settled for field goals in five trips, the Demon Deacons converted all four of their chances into touchdowns.
Even without Bernard the Heels still relied heavily on the run with 42 carries as a team. A.J. Blue filled in as the primary back with 106 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. Romar Morris also had a solid game with 71 yards and a score of his own.
The passing game was also able to rack up yards thanks to a 23-for-39 performance from Bryn Renner that netted him 271 yards and a touchdown, although he did throw a pick in the game.
Just like the offense, North Carolina's defensive statistics this season are misleading due to the week one win. Currently ranked fourth in the ACC in points allowed per game (14.0), the Heels allowed 28 points to Wake Forest and could not make enough stops down the stretch to give the squad a win.
The defense did play well on third down holding Wake Forest to just a 4-for-12 effort, but failed to get consistent pressure with only one sack as a team.
Tre Boston led the defense with 11 total tackles in the game and Kareem Martin racked up half of his tackles (five total) for loss.
Louisville's offense has made a habit of executing long scoring drives so far this season. The Cardinals had four different scoring drives of at least eight plays and 70 yards in the win over Missouri State. In the previous game the Cardinals also had three similar drives, including a 15-play, 99-yard drive on the opening possession.
Such consistent play has made Louisville the second-best offense in the Big East, in terms of yards per game (470.5), this season. At the helm is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been sensational through the first two games. The sophomore currently ranks third in the nation in completion percentage (81.7) and is third in the Big East in passing yards. Bridgewater completed 30-of-39 passes for 344 yards and a pair of scores against Missouri State.
"Teddy is doing a great job spreading the ball around," head coach Charlie Strong. He is looking down field, and he can feel the pressure, but does a great job getting rid of the ball."
The Cardinals didn't rack up 475 yards of total offense in the game without some help from other players. Senorise Perry rushed for 73 yards to lead all ball carriers in the game and also punched on in for a score. Jeremy Wright played well in a backup capacity with 43 yards on 10 carries.
Defensively, Louisville looked strong in the win, surrendering only 249 total yards and keeping Missouri State to just seven points. The defense also held the Bears to a 4-for-13 performance on third down and had to face Missouri State's offense just once in the red zone.
Calvin Pryor had a team-high eight tackles and also recorded an interception in the game, while Hakeem Smith had six tackles including one for loss. As a team the Cardinals had only four tackles in the backfield.