CRAWFORD | After slow start, defense gave Louisville a chance in TaxSlayer loss
After giving up touchdowns on both of Mississippi State's opening drives, the Louisville defense stabilized despite the loss of two starters -- Jaire Alexander and James Hearns.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) – In a game where the defense has allowed 31 points and allowed an 11-play, 65-yard drive for a game-winning touchdown, it seems like a stretch to say that the unit played well.
And to say it played well relative to where it was earlier in the season is a back-handed compliment.
But the record should show that for a University of Louisville defense that was highly maligned from the start of the season through the month of October – and rightly so – Saturday’s 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer bowl showed some promise.
After allowing a pair of easy touchdown drives – of 56 and 79 yards – on the Bulldogs’ first two possessions, Louisville’s defense adjusted and allowed just 248 yards (4.1 yards per play) and 17 points the rest of the game. And 10 of those points came off turnovers in which MSU got the ball around the Louisville 20-yard line.
You can’t blame the defense in this one. Peter Sirmon’s group adjusted to shut down the running game, and only wore down late against a big and physical Mississippi State front.
Yes, MSU was playing with a freshman quarterback in his first college start. But he also was a physical runner and made smart decisions in the run game.
And U of L was playing without its emotional leader – cornerback Jaire Alexander – and another leader on the line, senior James Hearns. Both skipped the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The Cards broke up three passes and intercepted another, forced a fumble and in the end came up with three takeaways.
“We had opportunities to win the game,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “I was proud of how our defense hung together. Adjustments they made on the sideline. The understanding of what (MSU) was trying to do and what we had to do to stop it. The running game is something their quarterback did really well and they did a good job of blocking it. They’re a good football team, there’s no question about that.”
Sebuir cornerback Trumaine Washington had a big strip and fumble recovery in the first half that saved a touchdown and prevented things from getting worse at the outset. Junior safety Dee Smith had 11 tackles, nine solo, including one for loss and a pass break-up. Senior Trevon Young had 10 tackles, nine solo, including a sack and two other tackles for loss. Freshman linebacker Dorian Ethridge recorded six tackles.
Senior Chucky Williams had a half-dozen tackles and an interception before being ejected from the game for targeting. It was a bang-bang play. He didn’t intend to lead with his head. But the rule required him to leave. It was his final college game, and he walked off, stunned.
“I was proud of our group, I thought we showed some toughness in adjusting to some things and getting ourselves right,” said sophomore Jonathan Greenard, who finished with five tackles. “We’ve got a good group and some good young players coming up. The future is bright for this defense.”
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