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Monday's Football Notes; Marcus Smith leads nation in sacks

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Gaines Named the American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week
Sophomore cornerback Charles Gaines was tabbed as the American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Louisville’s 31-10 win on the road at Connecticut. Gaines blocked a punt and returned it seven yards for a touchdown. It was his third touchdown of the season. He also scored on a 93-yard kickoff return versus FIU and returned an interception 70 yards against USF.

Smith Takes Over the National Lead in Sacks
Defensive end Marcus Smith has taken over as the national leader in sacks, averaging 1.17 sacks per game. With 2.5 sacks on Friday night, Smith has 10.5 sacks this year and has 20.0 for his career. Trent Murphy of Stanford is second in the country with 10.0 or 1.12 per game. Smith has been on a tear in the sacks department, registering 7.5 sacks in the last four games.

“He has grown each and every year,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “He takes coaching well. It is so fun to watch him develop. Usually when you take a guy with a quarterback’s body and make him a defensive player, even with his mentality, it is so tough with a quarterback to tell him he is going to play defense. He accepted that challenge, which was great.”

Smith and Mauldin Impressive Duo
The Cardinals are fortunate to have two of the top 15 pass rushers in the nation in senior Marcus Smith and junior Lorenzo Mauldin. The duo is ranked first and 15th in the nation, respectively, in sacks this season, with Smith recording 1.12 per game and Mauldin notching 0.8 per game. Smith leads the American Athletic Conference and Mauldin is third. The Cardinals are one of only two teams in the country to have two players with 7.0 or more sacks. Texas’ defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed are tied for the team lead and rank second in the Big 12 with 7.0 sacks each.

Cardinals Reach New Interception Record Under Strong
The Cardinals have not had a lot of success in the first three years of the Charlie Strong era in recording interceptions. Louisville registered 11 last season, which was the highest mark since Strong took over the program. The Cardinals recorded 10 picks in 2011 and a low of nine in the first year. After recording three interceptions in the win over Connecticut on Friday, the Cardinals have 13 interceptions this season, which ranks 14th nationally. Terell Floyd leads the team and ranks 14th in the nation in interceptions with four, while Charles Gaines and Calvin Pryor are next with three.

Cards and Michigan State Among the Best Defensively
Louisville and Michigan State are the only two schools in the FBS to rank in the top five nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense. The Cardinals also lead the American Athletic Conference in nine defensive categories (total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense, opponent third-down, sacks, red-zone defense and opponents first downs). In addition, Louisville’s defense has allowed just 4.21 yards per play, which ranks No. 2 in the FBS.

First Night Game Since 2009
The Cardinals will play their first Saturday night home game - kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. - when Houston travels to Papa John’s Cardinals Stadium this weekend. It will be the first one since the 2009 season when the Cardinals defeated Southern Mississippi 25-23 on a late field goal.

“It is different,” Strong said of the expected atmosphere on Saturday night. “As a coach, I like those 3:30 games because you are so anxious and you want to go play. As a crowd, it is better if it is a Saturday night because they have time all day to tailgate and be with friends and have a good time. Then they can come and cheer us on. Explode all that energy out of them.”

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