For nearly a decade, Cincinnati has struggled to keep up with Louisville’s dominant offense. Now, under coach Brian Kelly, the Bearcats appear to have closed the gap.
In a matchup of the Big East’s top offenses, No. 15 Cincinnati looks to remain undefeated and snap a four-game losing streak against the struggling Cardinals when the teams meet Saturday night.
Cincinnati (6-0, 1-0) has won seven straight games since Kelly took over before last season’s International Bowl. The Bearcats have averaged 41.0 points during that span, with Kelly incorporating a no-huddle offense that emphasizes stretching the field.
Off to its best start since going 8-0 in 1954, Cincinnati is already within 14 points of matching its total from last season (274). Kelly is the first coach to start 7-0 with the Bearcats since Russ Cohen did it in 1935.
Cincinnati joins South Florida and Connecticut as the only unbeaten teams in the Big East.
“I think that we come in everyday and work hard with the mind set that if we do everything right we can win the Big East,” Kelly said. “If we work hard and do everything right, why shouldn’t we have a shot?”
A 28-23 road win over then-No. 21 Rutgers last Saturday night has moved Cincinnati up five spots in this week’s AP poll. It was the lowest point total of the season for the Bearcats, who are second in the Big East with 43.3 points per game.
The top-ranked offense in the conference is Louisville (3-3, 0-1), accounting for 44.0 points and 578.3 yards per game. While the offense has not missed a beat since coach Bobby Petrino’s offseason departure to the NFL, the team has not been nearly as good on the other side of the ball.
A woeful defense ranked second-to-last in the Big East, allowing 30.7 points and 444.5 yards per game, has the Cardinals just trying to stay above .500 after being ranked as high as No. 9 earlier this season.
Louisville has won eight of its last nine games against the Bearcats, outscoring them 347-179, and has won four straight since a 24-14 loss on Nov. 7, 2002.
Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm has thrown for 682 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception in three games against Cincinnati. This year’s Bearcats, however, certainly have the ability to keep up with Brohm and the Cardinals.
Ben Mauk has passed for 1,034 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions to lead Cincinnati. He threw two of his three touchdown passes in a 19-second span late in the third quarter against Rutgers.
An opportunistic defense also has helped the Bearcats gain national attention, leading the nation with 25 turnovers.
“Great things happen and you just have to be patient,” Bearcats defensive end Anthony Hoke said.
Cincinnati’s defense will be facing a Louisville team that has been inconsistent on offense lately despite the impressive numbers it has posted.
An injury to leading receiver Harry Douglas has not helped. He sat out for a second straight game last Friday, and the Cardinals could not overcome a 20-point halftime deficit in a 44-35 loss to Utah.
“We’ve just got to start making plays early,” Louisville center Eric Wood said. “We’ve been unfortunate to catch a few bad bounces and breaks and sometimes it feels like you know we can’t catch a break where, in the past, it seemed like teams have been saying that when they played us.”
Douglas, who has caught 38 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns, could be ready to return from the leg injury that has kept him sidelined.
The Cardinals gave up 582 yards - including 260 on the ground - against the Utes, and rank 99th nationally in total defense at 444.5 yards per game. Louisville has fallen behind early in each of its three losses.
“When you make a mistake, their offense takes advantage of it and their offense thrives,” Wood said of the Bearcats. “I was watching (Cincinnati’s win over Rutgers last week) and it was an evenly matched game, then they cough the ball up a couple times and Cincinnati now has control of the game.”
Cincinnati leads the all-time series with Louisville 26-19-1.
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