LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Louisville's defense had looked as if it was making significant progress. That is, until last weekend when Miami shredded the Cardinals for one big play after another in a 52-27 loss.
Louisville surrendered 449 yards of total offense against the Hurricanes, didn't force a turnover and committed several critical turnovers and mental errors, prompting defensive coordinator Bryan Brown to say his unit had "laid a big fat egg."
"It was very disappointing for the simple fact that was our best week of practice all year long," Brown said. "We've just got to execute better. We went back and looked at it like, 'Is it play calling? Is it players? What is it? So we made our adjustments and hopefully, we'll come back and have a better week."
The defense will get a chance to make amends when U of L (5-4, 3-3) takes on North Carolina State (4-5, 1-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
It will mark the Cards' second chance to attain bowl eligibility and they're a four-point favorite against an N.C. State team that is in a tailspin, having lost three straight by an average margin of 33 points.
Perhaps the biggest culprit in the defeat and where much of the improvemnt has to come is from the secondary, which enabled Miami freshman quarterback Jarren Williams to throw for a school record six touchdowns.
Brown pointed to one play that was perhaps typical of Louisville's breakdowns, when junior cornerback Marlon Character got turned around and never saw the ball, leading to a 67-yard touchdown pass.
"We had to get after the guys a good bit because it was our base stuff we were screwing up," Brown said. "The one play with Marlon, you just can't explain it. We have to do a better job of coaching and making adjustments and things like that. I think the guys are locked and loaded, ready to go for NC State."
Coach Scott Satterfield says UofL will have to get more pressure on N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary, a redshirt freshman, as well as tighter coverage by the secondary.
"We have to do a lot better job closing on receivers and making the quarterback hold the ball a lot longer," Satterfield said. "There were times when we got hits on the quarterback, but the ball is gone. Miami had guys running free, and that's been an issue this whole season quite frankly."
Leary is the Wolfpack's third starting quarterback this season, having opened the last two games. He has completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 910 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. NC State's leading rushers are a pair of true freshmen -- Zonovan Knight (528 yards, 5.6 avg., 4 TDs) and Jordan Houston (347/5.0/2).
N.C. State has been crippled by injuries this season, losing five starters, and coach Dave Doeren has started 45 different players, the highest total among the Power Five conferences. The Wolfpack is coming off consecutive losses to Boston College (45-24), Wake Forest (44-10) and Clemson (55-10).
"Being young and facing the injuries has created a reality of adversity that we're in," Doeren said. "I look forward to continuing to persist and fight and help these guys get better.
"As far as Louisville goes, I have a lot of respect for Scott. He's doing a great job. They've got good team speed. He inherited a team that has some really good skill players, and those guys make plays for them. They play hard on both lines of scrimmage."
However, Louisville may be playing without one of his best offensive performers. Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, who suffered an ankle injury against Miami, is questionable.
With or without Becton, running back Javian Hawkins is likely to become the first UofL running back to reach the 1,000-yard pleateau since Bilal Powell ran for 1,405 yards in 2010. Hawkins has 978 yards, second-most by a freshman in the nation.
"We continue to run the ball and he makes plays for us," Satterfield says. "He's not a big guy, but he runs like he's a big guy. And when he gets past the line of scrimmage, he can make big runs."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.