CRAWFORD | Run game, defense, give Louisville a win it had to ha - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Run game, defense, give Louisville a win it had to have

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Brandon Radcliff ran for two touchdowns for a second straight game to lead Louisville past Syracuse 28-6. Brandon Radcliff ran for two touchdowns for a second straight game to lead Louisville past Syracuse 28-6.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WDRB) -- Forget what the calendar says. Forget the 4-1 record that Bobby Petrino's University of Louisville football team brought into Syracuse Friday night.

This was a must-win. Think Halloween can be scary? A loss at Syracuse would've been fright night, and the cold front that moved through Louisville Friday night would've been nothing compared with the chilly reception Petrino & Co. might have encountered.

Lose this game, and people start wondering if you can win another one. Lose this game, and some of your inexperienced leaders on offense might start wondering if you will win another one. Lose this one, and you're facing Clemson on the road circling in for the kill, and an N.C. State game that will be tough at home before Florida State brings the Jameis Winston show to Louisville.

Oh, and then to Notre Dame. And there's no point even thinking ahead to Kentucky.

The road gets tougher for U of L from here on, but Friday night's 28-6 win at Syracuse at least keeps the train on the tracks.

CRAWFORD | Three-and-out: Quick takeaways from Louisville's win at Syracuse

Louisville led the nation in rushing defense coming into the game, but hadn't faced a team that ranked better than 69th nationally in rushing. Syracuse ranked No. 25. It won't after this game. The Cardinals game up just 74 net yards on 24 carries.

The defense also contributed two safeties (there had been only one in all of FBS so far this season), a pair of interceptions -- including safety Gerod Holliman's NCAA-leading seventh interception of the season -- and allowed just 121 yards after halftime.

It hasn't given up an offensive touchdown in 13 quarters of football. And though it's sure to face a next-level test at Clemson, it has stood up to every test it has faced so far.

And most importantly, it has allowed its offense to work out issues at a pace that is considerably slower than Petrino was figuring on having to use.

For instance, twice on Saturday, the offense gave Syracuse a short field with turnovers. The first time, the Cards held the Orange to a field goal. The second, it got an interception on Syracuse's next play.

Twice Syracuse had first-and-goal inside the five yard line. It did not get into the end zone.

"We're fast and physical, have a good understanding of what we're doing and guys don't hesitate," Petrino said. "They just play extremely hard and understand our scheme, and did a great job communicating tonight."

Heading into the season, the secondary was supposed to be a liability. The play of Holliman and transfer James Sample has changed all that.

"We watch a lot of film, go over their main routes in practice, and if they end up throwing what we thought they were going to throw we just have to make a play," Sample said. "The first couple of games we saw we needed to play good on defense for our offense to get going. . . . We surprised a lot of people. Before I got here, they said the secondary was one of the weak links. We just took that to heart and came out ballin'."

Offensively, the Cards have found their go-to running back in Brandon Radcliff, who had his second straight 100-plus yard game and ran for two touchdowns.

"He hit the holes really hard and hugged the walls," Petrino said. "He comes out with a lot of speed. He broke a lot of tackles, and when you do that, it allows you to get the ball in the end zone."

Radcliff carried 23 times for 110 yards and U of L ran for 178 yards on 48 carries. It is 19-0 over the past three seasons when carrying it more than 35 times.

The offensive line continued to struggle in the pass blocking game, especially when Syracuse overloaded for the blitz on passing downs. But Petrino said he thought the line began to control the line of scrimmage, particularly in the running game, in the second half.

And he thought freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon got better as the game went on. A telling fact: Sophomore will Gardner was available for Friday night's game. Petrino never turned to him.

Bonnafon completed 12 of 22 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception early, but adjusted and said he began to relax as the game wore on.

"After I threw the interception early, I just needed to calm down and see the defense," he said. "I was coming to the line and just basically focusing on one guy. The coaches just told me to calm down and see the defense."

Bonnafon hit matt Milton for a 45-yard completion over the middle, and found Gerald Christian in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard TD completion to seal the win with 7:45 left in the game.

"I was happy for him," Petrino said. "It was tough, particularly on third down. They were going to blitz everybody and outnumber us. I thought Reggie kept his poise. He missed some things early, but he came back and hit Milton over the middle and then made some nice zone reads."

It's progress. The Cardinals will be underdogs when the travel to Clemson a week from today. They get a day's head-start on preparation, which generally means good things for Petrino-coached teams. He's 30-10 when he has more than seven days.

The Cards aren't rolling on offense the way they thought they would be. But they have survived because of their defense, and if it holds to form at Clemson, and moving forward, the Cards could have a shot in most of the games left -- even with the schedule getting scarier.

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