One area that University of Louisville football head coach Charlie Strong has tried to find is consistency in the running game. For the first four years of his tenure, the Cardinals haven't been able to sustain the rushing game every week.
After struggling to rush for 78 yards against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 7, the Cardinals bounced back with a season-best 242 yards in the 27-13 win over Kentucky on Saturday. Rushing for just 62 yards in the first half, the Cardinals made some adjustments and exploded for 180 yards in the second half and took the game over.
"What they did a great job of was bringing pressure and locating the pressure and where it was coming from," Strong said. "Once we were able to locate the pressure, we would run away from the pressure. Now, we were sealing the back side and now the lane was open up to us on the front side."
The Cardinals' three-headed monster at running back combined to rush for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Senorise Perry led the stable of backs with 100 yards on 11 carries and tallied a pair of rushing scores. He also recorded runs of 36 and 27 yards to pace the Cardinals.
"You like that coming from Senorise, because he's coming off a knee injury," Strong said. "You wanted to see if he could get that speed back. Then, when he was able to race down that sideline and they weren't able to catch him. It shows you now that he's getting back. I figured it would take some games for him to get back to himself. I think in more games, we're going to see Senorise become the player that we saw some last season."
Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown also gave the Cardinals a big lift in the ground game. Dyer rushed for a season-best 62 yards and Brown added 45 yards, and was critical on the drive in the second quarter when the Cardinals took the lead for good. He totaled four carries for 28 yards on that drive and seemed to ignite the running game in the second half.
"Dominique did a great job running behind his pads and getting the yardage that we needed," Strong said. "Even up to that point, if you think about it, we were getting hit at the line of scrimmage or we were losing yards. Then, when we got the running game going, that's when we were able to get balanced on offense."
The Cardinals are fortunate to have three talented backs at their disposal with three different skill sets. Perry is the speed guy in the group and Dyer and Brown are very similar in their running styles.
"You look at Senorise and he's an outside runner and he has speed, so he's going to try to outrun you," Strong said. "Dyer is one guy who can pound you. He can get behind his pads, because he's so low. He can run through defenders. Dominique and Dyer are kind of the same, because they're both power runners. The thing that Dyer has over Dominique is that he can run when he can get out into the open field."
Now, the challenge is to see if the Cardinals can continue to establish the run for the rest of the season. Last year, the Cardinals ran the ball well to start the season, but ended the year averaging just 46.8 yards per game over the final four contests.
The Cardinals are 4-1 under Strong when they rush for 200 yards in a game. By continuing to receive production from the running game, the Cardinals' offensive unit will remain one of the toughest in the country to stop.