The big question facing Louisville in the spring and fall: Who would emerge from the logjam at running back?
Would it be cornerback-turned-running back Senorise Perry?
Would it be the young but talented Corvin Lamb?
Would it be quarterback-turned-running back Dominique Brown?
Would it be the most experienced back of the bunch, Jeremy Wright?
Coach Charlie Strong never really singled anybody out, but they clearly knew something special was being developed on their practice fields. Because Louisville has done a terrific job turning its running game around behind a much improved offensive line and two of the aforementioned backs.
Perry and Wright.
It was Perry who turned in the headline-grabbing performance last week against Pitt, running for a career-high four touchdowns in the Cardinals' 45-35 victory. Louisville ended up with five rushing touchdowns on the afternoon. The last time that happened was in 2007, against Murray State.
"With both of our running backs, Senorise and Jeremy, they’re running behind their pads," Strong said this week. "Senorise has enough speed to get into open field and run away from defenders. Our offensive line did a great job of blocking. Senorise didn’t get touched when going into the end zone because of what we’re doing. We're able to move people at the point of attack."
Perry is one of the fastest players on the team, so you understand why the coaches decided to move him to running back in the spring in the hopes that he would give a jolt to the position. Louisville struggled to run with any consistency a year ago. The Cardinals only had one 100-yard performance from a back, and averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
That is not the way Strong likes to operate his offense.
For Perry, it was his third position change since arriving at Louisville. Though he played running back in high school, he came into Louisville as a receiver. But he was moved to cornerback and mainly just played special teams. Until this season.
"Once I ended up coming to play running back, it made me realize that I’m going to stay here," Perry said in a phone interview this week. "I love the position because of the things I did in high school. I feel very comfortable. Now I just have to get some of my techniques down and get better."
Perry and Wright have developed a healthy competition between each other to see who will end up with the most carries and the most yards when the season ends. Right now, Wright leads the team with 99 carries, while Perry leads the team with 559 yards. Wright has gotten three more carries than Perry on the season, rushing for 450 yards.
As for the other backs who were in contention before the year started, Brown has been out with a knee injury and Lamb has only played in four games with two carries.
So behind Perry and Wright, look at where Louisville has made its improvements this year:
Louisville is averaging 167 yards on the ground through the first half of the season. That is 45.5 yards better than last season, when the Cardinals averaged 121.5 yards on the ground. In addition, they have rushed for more than 125 yards in all six games after running for over 125 yards in six games all of last season. The Cardinals are 11-0 over the past two seasons when rushing for 125 yards or more.
After recording just one 100-yard rushing game last season, the Cardinals already have five this season. Perry has a team-high three, while Wright has two.
Last season, the Cardinals averaged 3.4 yards per carry and had just 13 rushing touchdowns. This season, Louisville is averaging 4.2 yards a carry and has 17 rushing touchdowns.
When asked why Louisville is so much better running the ball this year, Perry said, "Because of my great O-line and my great fullbacks, my quarterback making the great checks away from the blitzes so we can get into the open field and burst past the second level. Once you get past the second level, there’s no one who can stop us because we’re so dominant with our legs and our power."
USF will try Saturday in Louisville.