When you think Bobby Petrino, you immediately think offense.
But that has not been the case for Louisville this season, and that could be a good thing for the Cards as they prepare to host No. 2 Florida State next Thursday night.
Defense has to take priority in this matchup.
Defense is exactly how the Cards have won this season.
Time to embrace that defensive mentality, Louisville fans.
Louisville ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, but that is not a stat that gets defensive coordinator Todd Grantham going.
What has him most encouraged is the way his defense has limited scoring opportunities. That has jumped out at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, too. When asked for his first impressions on the Louisville defense, Fisher said, "Not many people get points and not many people get yards."
In the six ACC games Louisville has played, the Cards have held all their opponents to below their scoring average. In all but one game, they have held their opponents below their total offense average.
They are aggressive, they are stingy, and they can easily set the tone against a Florida State offense that has struggled to move the ball at times throughout the course of the season.
"Any time you're in big games, you’ve got to be able to play a balanced game, offensively and defensively, but at the same time, anytime you can be sound on defense and hard to score on, it gives your offense a chance to stay on track and not have to abandon the game plan," Grantham said in a phone interview this week.
"So as long as the score’s in a low number and it’s a one-possession game, then everybody can stay with the game plan. The issue that always occurs is when you get down multiple points and people have to abandon what they do. So our job is to be hard to score on and keep that number to a low number."
Florida State has not faced a scoring defense quite as good as this one. While Clemson and Notre Dame might have presented the strongest challenge to the Seminoles up front, Louisville has the stronger secondary, a group that has thrived playing a pattern-match scheme that is predicated on defensive backs truly understanding receiver routes.
The Cards also stress having players win one-on-one matchups not only in the secondary but in the front seven as well. They have been able to do so a majority of the time this season. As an example, Louisville has safeties Gerod Holliman and James Sample, along with cornerback Charles Gaines -- in the top 11 in the ACC in passes defended. That’s more than any other team.
"I felt we had individuals who could be really good at their positions, so we talk about that as winning your one-on-one matchups," Grantham said. "As you go through the day and you work, try to be the best at your position and if you’re the best at your position, and we can get you in one-on-one situations, you’re going to affect the game, which is good for our team. We’ve been able to get some matchups that are positive for us and those guys have made some plays."
Controlling what happens in the pass game could be critical for Louisville, considering how big a threat Jameis Winston is to take over at any moment. If the Cards can take away options like Rashad Greene and Bobo Wilson, their chances improve greatly.
No team has held Florida State to fewer than 30 points with Winston as the starter; nobody has scored 30 on Louisville this season.
It is obvious that Louisville will have to hold the score down to win. At least the Cards have practice doing that.
Cannot ask much more than that headed into the biggest challenge of the season.