LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After its eighth game, the University of Louisville football team still leads the nation in total defense, though it slipped to third nationally in rushing defense after its 30-18 win over N.C. State.

But for a defense that hadn't given up a touchdown in 17 quarters coming in, this effort was much better than it looked on the stat sheet. This performance took some grit, and some playing through injuries.

Lorenzo Mauldin re-injured his shoulder in the first half, but came back and played until the end of the game, when he had to be helped to the locker room with a hamstring injury.

Linebacker James Burgess was limping noticeably before the game, appeared disoriented after a second-half tackle, and gutted his way through until a late collision knocked him out.

Sheldon Rankins, fifth on the team in tackles and second in tackles for loss, was playing banged up, but still was outstanding.

"We definitely need this time off," said Mauldin, who will undergo an MRI on his hamstring Sunday. "I speak for the team. We need this break before Florida State. They're a great team and we need to be 110 percent."

Charles Gaines said he gave the defense a C-minus for the game. He said the standards for this defense have been raised. But he acknowledged, this group deserves the bye week that is coming -- and needs it.

"This was a lot more shifts and motions than we've seen this year, and we didn't always adjust the right way," Gaines said. "Their quarterback was in command of their team, and he paid attention to what we were doing and made good adjustments. I say this was a good game for us to have, this will be a good tape for us to watch for the Notre Dame, Boston College and Florida State games coming up. Motions, shifts, fullbacks that we'll see. We saw some things that we said, 'Hold on now,' but Sheldon Rankins did a great job getting the line straight and Burgess took the linebackers under his wing and Gerrod Holliman took the whole secondary and we just went out and believed in each other."

The Wolfpack ran for 128 yards on the Cardinals, more than any other team this season and more than its past three opponents combined.

But the Cardinal defense was plenty tough. It forced an N.C. State field goal after the Wolfpack had the ball first and goal from the 1-yard line, and still has given up only six touchdowns in 20 opponent trips to the Red Zone this season -- the lowest TD percentage in the nation, just ahead of Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

On that particular Red Zone trip, in which N.C. State failed to reach the red zone in seven plays there, Gaines said the defense stiffened after a face-mask call gave the Wolfpack the ball at the Louisville 1.

"James Burgess came in the huddle and gathered us guys up and made a great speech," Gaines said. "He said, 'They're not scoring. They're not crossing that line.' It was a key time in the game. I'm an upperclassmen, but hearing a younger guy like that, the whole defense brightened up and got more energy."

Gaines said that the reputation of Louisville's defense has caused teams to alter their regular game plans, and that the offenses they're seeing on the field now don't always resemble the ones they see on tape.

"Teams are showing us different looks," he said. "If you come in and line up and run what you've been doing all season, we're going to dominate you. So we're seeing teams come in and move guys around, maybe show us three tight ends one play and five-wide the next play and show us different looks, and I feel like as a defense that was a good game, and those were good things for us to see."

Mauldin said, "They came in and ran a two-back set, which we hadn't seen much from them getting ready throughout the week, and they were able to come in and run the ball and they made some plays in the passing game, but overall I think we played pretty well.

The Cardinals rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense. And Holliman, who leads the nation in interceptions, held onto that lead with his eighth pick of the season, on the game's final play in the end zone. With that interception, he tied Ray Buchanan for second on the school's single-season interception list. Anthony Floyd is No. 1, with 10 interceptions in 2000.

With one tackle for loss, Mauldin now ranks sixth nationally in that category, and is No. 10 on U of L's career list.

U of L as a team ranks fifth nationally in tackles for loss and second in the nation in sacks.

Now they get their biggest test to date -- reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston brings defending national champion Florida State into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium a week from Thursday.

"They're a great team," Mauldin said. "But we want to go into the game with the mindset that we can stop them. Our goal is to not lose at home, to anybody."

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