By no means were they perfect. While our defensive linemen and linebackers, and even cornerbacks and safeties, were tearing through UConn's offensive line early on, they kept missing tackles, allowing Jordan Todman to scoot by. Both the sheer number and awful timing of first half penalties -- by offense and defense -- were horrendous, nullifying great plays and threatening to keep close a game that Louisville was otherwise dominating. There were signs of frustration on the face of Charlie Strong throughout that penalty-bloody second quarter, though I couldn't quite make out any of the traces of "nervousness" on his face that was suggested elsewhere.
(As an aside: at this point, for this squad, I think we may just have to get used to the high number of penalties our defense incurs, as a necessary sacrifice to the Gods of aggressive play and chance-taking. Then again, the Cards committed not a single penalty in the second half, when they really stepped up their level of play. So I don't know. Okay, end aside).
But you can't argue with what the final stats say about the overall performance of this Louisville defense. The Cards kept UConn off the scoreboard -- their second shutout of the year -- and held them to 195 total yards. The Huskies managed only 11 first downs -- compared to Louisville's 20 -- for the entire game. Quarterbacks Zach Fraser and Michael Box could only manage 87 yards in the air against our secondary. I know, I know, neither player was UConn's true starter before the events of this past week. But in a game where UConn trailed all the way and thus had to throw, holding the opponent to 87 yards was still pretty damn good.
Most critically, Louisville dominated the turnover margin 3-0. With our offense having difficulty getting revved up and yellow flags flying all around, it was the forced fumbles, interceptions and recoveries by our alert defenders -- Johnny Patrick's INT, Hakeem Smith's strip, Deon Rogers' recovery after UConn bobbled a punt -- that ultimately put the game beyond reach.
Thanks to the defensive domination, Doug Beaumont's second career touchdown on a punt return (which should have been his third touchdown given the phantom penalty that nullified his other touchdown punt return), Chris Philpott's rediscovered accuracy (nice call Mr. Red, though conservative as it turned out -- Philpott nailed four), and of course Bilal Powell, Louisville beat a Connecticut squad that many had picked to beat us at season's beginning.
By no means has the list of areas in need of rapid improvement diluted much from last week. The red zone offense is still abysmal, and if dropped-pass-disease isn't soon cured amongst our receiver corps, we might have to start talking exorcisms over Halloween weekend. But I gotta say, watching and thinking about this game compared to the loss against Cincinnati, what screams loudest and in greatest contrast is that in this game, it was like we knew how to win. Turnover margin is part of it. Increasing maturity is another. Experience gained with every game is maybe most important of all.
We are now 1-1 in conference play, and not a single conference game left is unwinnable. Cards fans aren't being shy about it anymore: we want a bowl game. As it stands, this is also the first true surprise win on our schedule, even if supported by other factors. Charlie Strong has Louisville fans believing again; thus, no one believes it will be our last.
Congrats on the quality win... Go Cards!