CRAWFORD | Five keys for Louisville football at Wake Forest - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five keys for Louisville football at Wake Forest

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville football team has resembled a car that just isn’t firing on all cylinders over the past several weeks. When the defense was working, the offense would miss. The defense has taken longer than expected this season to warm up.

It’s not altogether unexpected, given the youth of the offense and the holes the defense had to fill. But now that the Cardinals have entered a portion of the schedule in which they’ll be expected to win at least their next several games, it’s time to begin putting it together.

In a Friday night test at Wake Forest, U of L coach Bobby Petrino wants to see some consistency.

What would improvement look like? Consider the following keys:

1. LIMIT NEGATIVE PLAYS AND PENALTIES. Only four teams in America are allowing more tackles per loss per game than Louisville’s 8.29. For a youthful offense (and freshman quarterback), those plays are particularly damaging, because inexperienced offenses tend to feed more on momentum, and conversely seem more easily bogged down by a negative play or drive.

When you add in penalties, Louisville is going backward better than a dozen times per game. When you’re averaging just 71 or so plays a game, you’re talking about going the wrong direction almost 17 percent of the time.

The Cardinals were tackled behind the scrimmage, or for no gain, 17 times against Boston College.

"There were times where we were moving the ball in the first half," Petrino said. "We came out and had two good drives, had a touchdown, had another big play, and then had negative plays. We had another big play coming down, and had to settle for a field goal."

2. KEEP THE DEFENSIVE MOMENTUM. Wake Forest may be a worse offensive team than Boston College — which gave up 16 tackles for loss to the Cardinals. The Demon Deacons are averaging just 18.6 points per game (only nine teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision average fewer) and their 349.1 yards per game rank 105th in FBS.

Boston College, Wake Forest and next week’s opponent, Syracuse, are the worst offensive teams on the Cardinals’ schedule. Now is the time for the defense to put together a run of games that gets them back to where they hoped to be statistically this season.

3. FIRST DOWN FEROCITY. The Cardinals are giving up 3.4 yards per carry on first down, which ranks 17th in the nation. But opponent are completing 67 percent of their passes on first down, with an average of 6.2 yards per attempt and 9.8 yards per completion.

4. SCORE EARLY. Last week’s win over Boston College is a good example of the importance of an early lead. The Cardinals had a bad offensive game, and were shut out in the second half for on the second time in Petrino’s two tenures.

But because they got off to a 14-0 lead and led by 10 at the half, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was able to take a few more chances and call a more aggressive game defensively, and Boston College struggled to deal with the Cardinals rush.

If you’re not going to score a ton of points, it’s best to score early.

5. NOTES. Petrino is a perfect 7-0 in Friday night games while at Louisville. The Cardinals are 44-28-1 all-time in Friday games. . . . The Cards are 2-0 in their series with Wake Forest, including a 20-10 win last season in which the Demon Deacons managed just 100 total yards. . . . Freshman Lamar Jackson is 3-2 as a starting quarterback, and his six rushing TDs are the most for a Louisville quarterback since Dave Ragone in 2000. . . . Since Jackson took over as quarterback, the Cardinals are averaging 14.5 yards per completion. . . Junior wide receiver Jamari Staples, who missed the first four games with an injury, has caught 10 passes for 174 yards over the last three games, including four catches for a career-high 96 yards in the win over Boston College.

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