BOZICH | Better blocking? Pittsburgh defense will test improveme - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Better blocking? Pittsburgh defense will test improvement by Louisville line

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Freshman Geron Christian has started all 10 games at left tackle for Louisville. Freshman Geron Christian has started all 10 games at left tackle for Louisville.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville football team has learned what happens when you start two offensive linemen who were knocking down undersized high school kids a year ago:

The running game stalls. The quarterback gets knocked down.

In fact, when the quarterback gets up, he gets knocked down again. And again.

Only three of 128 FBS teams have allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked more often than the 36 times U of L quarterbacks have been sacked this season, according to the website cfbstat.com.

That stat is worth remembering as Louisville prepares to play Pittsburgh, one of the best defensive fronts in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Saturday.

The Cards rank last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in sacks allowed. Boston College stormed to seven against U of L. Florida State and Clemson had five. The line has yet to deliver a clean game this season.

"You've just got to forget it (when you have a bad game)," said freshman tackle Geron Christian. "It happens. You've got to try your hardest not to let it happen again.

"A lot of people kind of doubted us, the way we started and how the season came in the beginning. It's between us. It's on us. We just had to step up and do what we had to do."

Here is the rest of the story: The Louisville offensive front has improved as much as any unit on Bobby Petrino's 6-4 squad.

Louisville allowed one sack against Syracuse and two by Virginia last Saturday.

Go ahead and say it: Those two teams are not as powerful across the defensive front as Auburn, BC or Clemson. They need to do it at Pittsburgh to show major improvement.

But remember this: In the season's fourth week, the U of L offensive line allowed two sacks by Samford, an FCS program.

The Cards' running game has also surged. Louisville has run for 217 (Syracuse) and 266 (Virginia) yards the last two weeks. Those performances rank as fourth and second best this season. Most of those yards came on running plays, not the quarterback scrambles that defined the rushing game earlier this season.

Halfback Brandon Radcliff has certainly looked energized by the presence of quarterback Kyle Bolin as well as the improved blocking. Radcliff stung Syracuse for 117 yards and Virginia for 146.

What did the line do well against Virginia?

"We communicated well," coach Bobby Petrino said. "We made a lot of the right calls, we're coming off the ball together.

"So that's always a big thing, when you get off the ball together and get on the blocks together. Then the timing works much better.

"And we're getting to the second level. We had some issues early in the year when we didn't cover up the linebackers, but the last couple of weeks we've been getting to our second-level blocks, and that's when you get the big runs."

Not bad for a group that started seniors Aaron Epps and Tobiah Hughley; sophomore Skylar Lacy; redshirt freshman Lukayus McNeil and Christian, who was playing at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla., last season.

"I think I played against a few pretty good teams … which had a lot of DI prospects, but never at this level, with size," Christian said. "I used my size."

The numbers say the challenge Saturday will be one of the most difficult of the season. Pittsburgh's defense ranks second to Boston College in sacks. The Panthers have registered 29 in 10 games, a primary reason Pitt has won 7 of 10 games.

"They're a very good football team," Petrino said. "They're very well-coached on defense, they play extremely hard. They make it hard for you to run the football and that's one of their main things is to stop the run and they do a good job of it."

The Cardinals are listed as a 2 ½-point road underdog, which essentially translates into the teams being viewed as even. Another solid performance by the offensive line will be needed for Louisville to bump its winning streak to five.

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