Louisville seeks defensive improvement after 3rd ACC loss

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to pile up eye-popping yardage and touchdown totals — not to mention an impressive resume of records and highlights — that should merit consideration for another Heisman Trophy.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the junior’s do-everything performances with his arm and feet haven’t been enough to offset defensive breakdowns resulting in three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference losses.

Boston College barely outgained the 2016 Heisman winner, who accounted for 512 of Louisville’s 625 yards and five of its six touchdowns on Saturday. But the Eagles’ 555 yards were more than enough to earn a 45-42 upset that dropped the unranked Cardinals to 1-3 in the ACC and into a last-place tie with BC in the Atlantic Division.

Louisville is tied for 62nd nationally in total defense, allowing 380.4 yards per game.

“We have a lot of things to work on, no questions about that,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said afterward. “So, we get back in the meeting room, back on the practice field and work as hard as we can.”

Since opening conference play with a 47-35 win at North Carolina , Louisville (4-3) has allowed an average of nearly 563 yards and 44 points in losses to Clemson , North Carolina State and now BC, which moved the ball at will against the Cardinals in the second half.

Down 21-7 in the second quarter, the Eagles scored 28 unanswered points and twice led by 14 in the final quarter. Jackson eventually erased that deficit with three fourth-quarter TDs, and he was moving the Cardinals downfield late in the game.

BC got a late turnover at the Louisville 39 with 1:49 remaining and immediately drove to the 10 behind freshman back A.J. Dillon, who carried 39 times for 272 of the Eagles’ 364 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Colton Lichtenberg kicked the game-winning, 27-yard field goal as time expired to cap another instance in which the Cardinals yielded points and yardage in bunches.

“In practice we’re always making good plays, consistently doing our job and winning off the ball,” linebacker Jonathan Greenard said. “But in a game, when something goes wrong or happens, it kind of freezes up a little bit.

“We’ve just got to understand that they’re going to get us sometimes and realize that’s football. We’ve just got to bounce back and keep playing.”

A healthy roster would certainly help a Louisville defense that’s also adapting to first-year coordinator Peter Sirmon.

Injuries to several regulars have hampered the Cardinals on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. Junior cornerback Jaire Alexander, last year’s interceptions leader with five, played in just his second game since returning from a right knee injury suffered early in the opener against Purdue.

Senior linebacker Stacy Thomas is out after spraining his knee against N.C. State, though Petrino said he could return later this season. Senior defensive tackle Drew Bailey has been limited by a high sprain.

The Cardinals understand that injuries are part of football and believe they have enough experience and depth to offset them. Execution is the concern right now, especially after another effort in which they’ve offered little resistance. Players walked on defense at times, and fans booed.

Louisville must shore up things before Saturday’s visit to Florida State, which aims to avenge last year’s 63-20 pummeling in which Jackson established himself as a Heisman candidate. He had five TDs and 362 yards of offense that day, and his numbers are similarly impressive this fall.

Jackson, who has accounted for 3,012 yards of offense and 26 TDs, remains upbeat and committed to helping the offense do its part. The Cardinals’ defensive challenge is complementing him with the same kind of effort so he won’t have to do so much.

“At this point, it’s just got to come from within yourself,” Greenard said of changing their resolve. “Coach can stress about it so much, but at the end of the day it comes down to us. So, we can’t really do anything but dig deep and find it and continue to realize we’ve still got half the season to play.”


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