Against Miami, the Cardinals played defense with a capital D.
The brilliance of Teddy Bridgewater was a story unto itself, but the defensive domination was Charlie Strong's signature. Miami came into the game averaging 36 points per game, 25th nationally. Miami managed just 3.2 yards per play. An offense that had 54 plays of 20 or more yards all season had just two against the Cardinals.
At halftime, the Hurricanes had been outgained 280 to 83.
The first third-down play Miami faced pretty well set the tone. Miami was waiting to see U of L's alignment to signal a play in from the sideline. There was no alignment. U of L's defensive linemen never got into a three-point stance. They jumped back and forth, wandered around, and gave no sign of how they'd line up until the center was nearly ready to snap the ball.
Stephen Morris dropped back, felt pressure, and threw quickly to Allen Hurns on the sideline, who dropped the pass.
The theme was recurring. Miami did not convert a third down in the game, going 0-for-11.
"It was different," Miami coach Al Golden said of the defense he saw, compared to the Louisville defense he had seen on tape. "It was definitely different and then obviously you know when they got out to a lead and we never brought my pressure on the other side, which kept compounding the problem."
Miami had given up just 13 sacks all season long. Its protection had led to its ability to strike deep in the passing game. Louisville had four sacks in the game, and hurried Morris on a number of other throws.
"What we were able to do on third down, we gave them a lot of issues because we just were walking guys around," Strong said. "We never put a guy's hand down. We wanted to make it almost like the radar defense, move them around and then come with the pressure. We want to create confusion for the quarterback because their speed at wide receiver. . . . We knew we couldn't give up the big play."
Preston Brown had seven tackles, two for loss. Calvin Pryor had six tackles, all unassisted. James Burgess had two tackles for loss and Marcus Smith had a pair of sacks. Lorenzo Mauldin recovered a fumble.
The Cardinals lose six starters on defense, but Strong has built depth through recruiting. He'll have to replace three starting defensive linemen in Smith, Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn, but has been developing capable players behind them, including Deiontrez Mount.
"Defensively we played well this year, but there was no reason for us not to," Strong said. "I know this on defense, if you can disrupt the rhythm of an offense, you have a chance. Our first goal in playing to win is go play great defense. We have a great quarterback, we have a great offense and defense. The championship teams play great defense."