This weekend, the No. 5 University of Louisville (9-1) used a 34-point fourth quarter to defeat Wake Forest University.
For the seventh time this season, the Cardinals scored more than 40 points. With conference play over for U of L, the Cardinals now take their top-rated scoring offense down to Houston to face the Cougars (8-2).
While the game isn’t a top-10 matchup that was expected at the start of the season, the game still holds large implications.
Head coaches — Bobby Petrino (12 years, 109-40, five bowl victories) vs. Tom Herman (two years, 21-3, one bowl victory)
Two of the best offensive minds in the nation are going head-to-head Thursday night. Both coaches use a variety of different sets to cause confusion for opposing defenses. Both coaches surround their offense around their playmakers at quarterback.
Petrino uses more of a pro-style offensive set mixed with spread concepts. Herman’s spread offense is more of a new-age style, which means the Cougars rarely go under center.
Last year, Herman got the best of Petrino as the Cougars upset the Cardinals at home 34-31.
Offenses — Louisville (49.6 points per game, 583.2 yards per game), Houston (37.6 points per game, 452.4 yards per game)
Leaders — Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson (4,234 total yards, 46 touchdowns), senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (3,037 total yards, 25 touchdowns)
Jackson and Ward are both the engines that make their teams go. It’s well-documented what Jackson can do as he is the current Heisman front-runner. When Jackson isn’t on the top of his game, the Cardinal’s offense is average and struggles to convert on third down and in the red zone.
Redshirt senior running back Brandon Radcliff is the team’s senior captain and has 768 yards with six touchdowns on the year. Seniors James Quick and Jamari Staples are the Cardinals’ leading receivers, combining for 70 catches, 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns.
The team’s most consistent target is senior tight end Cole Hikutini, though. His 526 yards receiving is good for fifth in the nation among tight ends.
The offensive line has had its ups and downs this season. After performing their best against Florida State University, the Cardinals had early issues against both Marshall University and Clemson University. The line has given up 25 sacks on the year, including five against Wake Forest.
Houston’s Ward is a great athlete and serviceable passer, but has been banged up all year. Ward is fourth in the AAC in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
U of L couldn’t stop Ward last year, as he totaled 347 yards and three touchdowns. Ward led the Cougars down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
The rushing attack is Houston’s biggest weakness, rushing for 1,686 yards in 10 games. Ward is the team’s leading rusher with 429 yards on 144 carries with nine touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore running back Duke Catalon is second with 411 yards and two touchdowns.
Houston hasn’t found a replacement to match Kenneth Farrow’s production from 2015. Houston ran for 3,301 yards last season.
UH also had to replace its leading receiver from 2015. Junior Linell Bonner is the leading wideout this season and ranks seventh in the AAC in receiving yards with 774. A pair of 6-foot-3 receivers in Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar have accounted for 1,222 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Cougars are more of a threat through the air but have allowed Ward to take some hits this season. The Cougars have allowed 26 sacks, and their line is young. They only have one upperclassman up front.
Defense — Louisville (20.3 points per game, 285.2 yards per game), Houston (21.3 points per game, 303 yards per game)
Leaders — Senior linebacker Keith Kelsey (68 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss), freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver (55 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss)
Up front, the Cardinals are led by redshirt senior nose tackle DeAngelo Brown. With nine tackles for loss, Brown is a great run defender and is tough to move. Junior defensive end Drew Bailey has come on strong for U of L as the year has progressed and has recorded 39 tackles and seven for loss.
The Cardinals have strong linebackers in Devonte Fields, James Hearns, Stacy Thomas and Kelsey. Fields has 39 tackles and five sacks in nine games.
Hearns is fifth in the ACC with eight sacks and has 11 tackles for loss. Thomas’ 58 tackles ranks second on the team, and Kelsey leads the team in tackles.
In the secondary, sophomore cornerback Jaire Alexander has five interceptions on the year and has proved to be a playmaker. Redshirt junior Chucky Williams is having a great year at safety with 53 tackles and three interceptions.
For Houston, Oliver is one of the most dangerous defensive linemen in the nation. Oliver is fourth in the nation in tackles for loss as a freshman.
The inside linebackers have totaled 105 tackles with 14.5 for loss. Junior Matthew Adams is tied with Oliver with 55 tackles, and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser leads Houston in sacks with 6.5.
Sophomore cornerback Howard Wilson has picked off five passes this season and leads the team in interceptions. Junior safety Khalil Williams and sophomore Garrett Davis have combined for 100 tackles.
Dalton Ray is the sports editor of the University of Louisville’s student newspaper, The Louisville Cardinal.