LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Charlie Strong and his defensive coaching staff worried all offseason about the lack of size along the Louisville front seven and how they would hold up against bigger, power-running teams.
So as Connecticut came into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with the Big East's beefiest offensive line and top rusher, Strong's worries arrived personified. Except there was nothing to fear. Louisville held UConn to 108 yards, its worst rushing day of the season, and limited Jordan Todman to 80 yards on 19 carries. The Cardinals had nothing else to worry about in a 26-0 shutout.
"You can't stay in one spot or they're going to mash you and knock you back," Strong said. "You have to have a lot of movement, and we had a lot of movement today where we were able to get off and just run."
Much like his defense, which registered its second shutout in three weeks, Strong's Cardinals are on the move right now. Used to getting knocked back in the Big East the past three years under Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville just dominated one of the teams considered as a preseason league contender.
Well, forget UConn as a contender. The Huskies (3-4, 0-2 Big East) have all sorts of problems right now, not least of which is their quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Michael Box made his first career start and finished just 4-of-12 for 35 yards with an interception before suffering an undisclosed injury late (Box called it "a little bit of a bell ringing"). Coming off a bye week, Connecticut appeared lethargic and slow, perhaps still dealing with the shocking dismissal of starting quarterback Cody Endres on Wednesday.
Louisville (4-3, 1-1) -- which won only one Big East game a year ago, by one point over Syracuse -- looked more athletic, more determined and like far more of a league power than the Huskies.
"This sort of puts us over the hump," said senior receiver Doug Beaumont, who had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. "We haven't won too many Big East games, but now we know can go out there, keep playing hard and anything can happen. The Big East is wide open."
In a week where Syracuse wins at West Virginia and South Florida upsets Cincinnati on the road, yeah, it seems like anything can happen. Nothing is more surprising than the development of Louisville's defense. The same players that had Strong and his assistants pulling out their hair in the spring and summer were all over the field making plays against UConn.
"I guess our offensive line is way better than theirs, because I felt more comfortable going against them then I did going against our offensive line in practice," said Louisville freshman Brandon Dunn, who made his first career start at defensive tackle.
Or to continue the anything-can-happen theme, how about Bilal Powell going over 1,000 yards in the seventh game of the season? The senior running back had never surpassed 392 yards in any previous season before Strong anointed him as his go-to-guy. Strong made sure Powell got to 1,000 on Saturday, keeping him in the final minutes until he had the 102 he needed (he finished with 105). Even more surprising, the painfully shy Powell agreed to his first group media interview of the season afterward.
"It means a lot to me, just looking over and seeing my teammates getting excited about me getting closer and closer to 1,000 yards," Powell said. "I tell our younger guys a lot, 'You came into something real good.' A lot of the older guys, the last three years -- I don't want to talk about that. There's a lot of excitement around the building, and I'm just overwhelmed by everything that's unfolding right now."
Louisville just proved that its days of getting overwhelmed in the Big East are over.