The University of Louisville football team hit the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, continuing their preparation for their impending home meeting with ACC foe Wake Forest on Saturday. The game will mark the first home game for the Cardinals since their 66-21 win over Murray State three weeks ago, on Sept. 6.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and senior defensive back Terell Floyd spoke with the media after practice, previewing Wake Forest, and taking the time to answer questions about the team's preparation and a handful of other topics.
Wake Forest will mark the Cardinals' third ACC game of the season. The Cardinals opened with a 31-13 victory over Miami on Sept. 1, and dropped a 23-21 decision to Virginia two weeks ago. As does every opponent on the schedule, the Demon Deacons (2-2 overall; 0-0 ACC) will pose a new task for the Louisville defense- namely a fast-paced offense that features a dual-threat quarterback, something the Cards have yet to see."Like with most college teams, they're a tempo team," Grantham said of Wake's offense. "With the read zone stuff, you've got a quarterback who can run it a well as hand it off, so you've got to be disciplined there." For third time this season, the Cardinals will face a true freshman quarterback, in the Deacons' Wolford. Wolford has both struggled and excelled in spots this season, passing for 883 yard and six scores through four games, but also tossing seven interceptions.
Preparing for a quarterback with only four games of film creates a limited sample size for opposing defenses. But it's a challenge that Grantham says the team has adjusted to through the early part of the season.
"You don't have as much tape to watch guys and that kind of thing," Grantham said of facing a newcomer. "And generally speaking, those guys are really trying to build as the season goes with what they're doing so you always see things added each week, whereas a guy who's a little bit older, you can go back on some tape and see things."
For Grantham, though, the success or failure of the Cardinals in this familiar situation rides on the team's execution.
"So again, really, it kind of goes back to us and how we play and what we do. That needs to be the focus- us doing our job and taking care of our business."
Grantham also took time to talk about two Cardinals who have helped the defense thrive through the first four games: defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin and safety Gerod Holliman.
In his first year in Grantham's 3-4 defense, Mauldin has transitioned seamlessly from his traditional role as a pass-rusher to his new duty as an outside linebacker. Through four games, Mauldin has collected 18 tackles, the team's second-highest total. The senior wrecked havoc in last weekend's 34-3 victory at Florida International, making a season-high three tackles for loss.
Grantham attributed Mauldin's early-season success to his physical ability, and also noted that Lozo's impact has stretched far beyond the stat-sheet.
"I think first of all, he's made the play [as] outside linebacker in our system. When you look at a guy with his length, his burst off the ball, his athletic ability, he can do a lot of things. Not only rush, but he can drop. He can also attract blockers to free other people up," Grantham said.
"In the game Saturday, he didn't necessarily have a sack but he (caused) two penalties that really were negative 10 yards (that) if they hadn't held him, he would've gotten the sack. And he really forced a couple other guys to get sacks, so he's affected the game. When you've got a guy like that, people are always going to try to find ways to take him out of the game."
As for Holliman, who currently holds a nation-leading five interceptions on the season, Grantham had much praise, especially for his ability to do everything required of a complete safety.
"He does a good job of route reading, anticipating plays on the routes. He can make plays on the ball. You know, being a safety, you've got to be able to tackle. He's done a good job of tackling. And he's a physical player. Sometimes on his route reads, he may not have been able to get there to make the pick, but he slides the ball from the receiver and forces it to be an incomplete pass or a fumble."
With back-to-back games with two interceptions, it's apparent that Holliman is a natural playmaker- a rare attribute that Grantham says he won't detract from. Luckily for the Cards, Holliman will continue to have the green light to go get the football.
"I don't like to coach robots at any position. It's kind of like parenting. You've kind of got to give them the boundaries, but then they've got to make the decision," Grantham said.
"My coaching philosophy has always been to try to give guys the freedom to make the plays within the framework of the defense, understand the boundaries, and as long as guys continue to make good choices, then you continue with those guidelines."
Alongside Holliman, Terell Floyd and the team's stable of defensive backs have helped the Cardinals once again establish themselves as one of the nation's stingiest defenses. The duo, along with cornerbacks Charles Gaines and Andrew Johnson and safety James Sample, have led a Louisville secondary that has allowed opponents to pass for just 178.2 yards per game and has snagged seven interceptions.
"I'm not surprised at all at how well we're playing," Floyd said Wednesday. "I expected this because we've got a lot of talented guys in the secondary, so I feel like I expected us to play this well right now."
Floyd did mention, though, that he believes the defensive backfield is still in need of some improvement.
"I also think we need improvement to get better," Floyd added, before listing a few areas in which the group could afford growth. "Technique. Film study. Just little things that we do."
Picking off the opposing quarterback at least once in every game, the Cardinal secondary has produced an output that any coach or fan would be pleased with through the early stretch. Floyd & Co. will have their next go on Saturday in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.