The second Bobby Petrino era at Louisville got off to a rousing start Monday night thanks to the Cardinals' defense.
Petrino's first game in his second go-round at Louisville coincided with the school's first game as an ACC member, and the Cardinals cruised past league foe Miami 31-13. While new starting quarterback Will Gardner threw for 206 yards and two scores and senior tailback Dominique Brown rushed for 143 yards and a TD, the Cardinals' offense moved in fits and starts and finished with 336 yards. Gardner frequently looked lost in the pocket and suffered for it, taking four sacks. Brown had to carry a heavier-than-normal workload because Michael Dyer -- set to share carries with Brown -- missed the game with a thigh injury. But the defense more than made up for the offensive struggles.
Louisville held a Miami offense that features playmakers at tailback, wide receiver and tight end to just 244 total yards. UM was 1-of-13 on third down and committed three turnovers.
Louisville switched to a 3-4 scheme this season, and the Cardinals' four starting linebackers dominated. Senior Lorenzo Mauldin (6-foot-4, 252 pounds) played his first game at outside linebacker after moving from end, and he played at a high level. NFL scouts love his pass-rush ability -- he had 9.5 sacks last season -- and he showed off that facet of his game Monday night with consistent pressure. But he also was stout against the run and showed he could drop into coverage, matching up with Miami tailback Duke Johnson and tight end Clive Walford at different times. His ability in pass coverage will be closely watched by scouts this season.
Senior Deiontrez Mount (6-5, 243), who similarly has made the move from end to outside linebacker, and inside 'backers Keith Kelsey Jr. and James Burgess helped keep Johnson bottled up for most of the night. Johnson, one of the nation's top tailbacks, had 90 yards on 20 carries, but more than a third of his yardage (32 yards) came on two carries early in the fourth quarter with the Hurricanes down 11. UM tried to run Johnson between the tackles, but Burgess and Kelsey usually were there to stuff him. Going wide meant trying to get by Mount or Mauldin, and Louisville's corners showed well in run support, too.
With Johnson effectively bottled up, Miami had to rely more on true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya and that was not a good thing. Kaaya threw for 174 yards, but 61 of those came in the final 1:43, with UM trailing by 21 and the game basically over. Kaaya took a lot of hits and made some bad reads, throwing two interceptions and both over- and underthrowing passes.
Miami's bright spot was Denzel Perryman, who might be the best senior inside linebacker in the nation. Perryman (6-0, 242) had 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack, and did an especially nice job of stuffing the run in the first half. As with the rest of UM's defenders, he wore down as the game progressed, and Brown got the bulk of his yardage in the second half.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.