Louisville finished non-league play 5-0 after going 2-3 last season.
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) – The voters in the national college football polls like the way the University of Louisville football team has started this season. But they're not gaga about the Cards.
Teams ranked ahead of Louisville keep losing, but the Cards have not been able to climb past No. 19 in the Associated Press college football poll for four weeks. Two voters continue to exclude U of L from their ballots.
There's no mystery. Louisville hasn't won by more than a touchdown against blah competition for three consecutive weeks. Jeff Sagarin's computer formula ranks the Louisville schedule the 107th toughest in the nation. The Cards have only whacked one team – North Carolina – with a winning record.
Here is the rest of the story: Last season Louisville was better in the Big East than it was outside the league. The Cards this season have gone 5-0 in non-league play while playing maybe five superb quarters of football.
"We still have a lot to learn, even though we're 5-0," U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "But this year guys are just all into it. This year it's a new team. We have different attitude."
This is what the overall numbers say about the 2012 Cards: They're better than the 2011 Cards in nearly every way.
A year ago Louisville ranked last in the Big East in scoring, huffing and puffing and scrambling to average 21.9 points per game. This year the Cards lead the Big East in scoring, at 31 points per game. They've scored at least 21 points every game. A year ago the Cards failed to score 21 six times.
Charlie Strong is usually as cautious with compliments as he is with access to practice. But on Monday, Strong said that he believed his team's offense was dramatically improved.
Apparently Strong has inhaled the skeptical comments about his defense because on Monday he said he thinks people have become spoiled by the play of his defense the last two seasons.
"Now all of a sudden, people don't think we can play defense," Strong said.
At least we know what message will be taped inside the Cardinals' locker room ASAP. With 12 days until their next game (at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m., Oct. 13) Louisville has time to tweak offensive and defensive units that have already performed better than last season.
"The great thing about it is when we go watch film, we can be way better," center Mario Benavides said. "We could be unbelievable."
Here are five things to remember about this Louisville team:
1. Their stats have improved nearly across the board. Looking at the season averages in rushing yards, passing yards, total yards and scoring (offense and defense), the Cards are better in seven of eight categories. No wonder they're outscoring opponent by nine points per game. Last season, the difference was less than two points.
The only decline, sorry, Charlie, has been in rushing yards allowed per game. It's jumped 100.5 to 118.
2. Their biggest improvement has been in running the ball – and that's been without Dominique Brown, Louisville's top rusher last season.
Louisville has already enjoyed four 100-yard running game – two by Senorise Perry, two by Jeremy Wright. Louisville had a single 100-yard performance (by Wright against Rutgers) last season. With 458 yards, Perry is one solid game from rolling past the 539 yards that Victor Anderson gained while leading U of L in rushing last season.
3. I checked with the NCAA statistics offense in Indianapolis. They don't compile numbers they consider "negative" statistics. I guess fewest pass completions qualifies in that category.
Southern Miss completed two passes against the Cards Saturday – or about a half pass for every inch of rain that fell during the evening. But prior to Saturday, the fewest completions Louisville had allowed in a game the last 5-½ seasons was 6 by West Virginia on Nov. 22, 2008.
4. Don't overlook the young talent. Forgotten in the Saturday night downpour was this nugget: Freshman linebacker Keith Brown moved into the lineup and led Louisville with nine tackles.
5. They've learned to play from behind. Louisville trailed for 6 minutes and 42 seconds against Florida International. Against Southern Miss, they were behind for 47 minutes and 36 seconds, until the 14-yard touchdown run by Perry pushed U of L ahead 21-17.
Last year's team wasn't great playing from behind. This year's team has maintained its poise.
"Last year we kind of struggled with playing (from) behind or even playing with a small margin," Bridgewater said.
"I feel like we're always going to be in position, with the kind of coaching staff that we have, to be in position to win," Benavides said. "I think that's been the case the last three years."