The worst thing the Cardinals can do offensively is to do anything other than let Teddy Bridgewater throw the football and do Teddy Bridgewater things. They are objectively average running the football, but so is everyone in the American Athletic Conference this year. That is why they rank 4th in the conference in yards per game and carry while being 70th or worse nationally. The only situation where they run the football well in is third and short where they are converting at a staggering 79 percent.
DeVante Parker is the standout receiver for them, but he doesn't lead them in yards or catches, only touchdowns (insert Chris Carter joke here). The fact that Parker isn't the overwhelming leader in catches or yards goes back to Bridgewater. UC fans love to make jokes at his expense, and there will be plenty of that reigning from above tomorrow night. But that won't make the fact that Bridgewater is an exceptional quarterback go away. UC can beat Louisville straight up, but they can't depend on Bridgewater being the vehicle for their implosion. The Bearcats will have to manage Teddy to win.
This is, bar none, the best defense the Bearcats have played this season, and probably the best since the Sugar Bowl. They are that good in both phases of the game. There is no obvious weakness to exploit, no readily identifiable holes in their scheme. They know what they are, an attacking defense that will send defenders from anywhere at any time, and they don't deviate from the plan.
The argument could be made that Louisville is yet to face a passing game as dynamic and consistent as the Bearcats possess. In that vein UCF is the only other opponent with a pass efficiency rating higher than 48th*, and Blake Bortles managed to put up a solid 21 of 32, 250 yard 2 TD, 1 INT line. If he can get the time Brendon Kay could perform similarly.
*The other 10 opponents average rank is 79th in passer rating.
But time is sure to be in short supply with the Cardinals defense. This was touched on above, but the way this group gets after passers is impressive. Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin both rank among the top 20 nationally in sacks, between the two of them they have 22 of the Cardinals 38 sacks. They are, if anything more disruptive in the running game.
In many ways the Cardinals remind me a bit of Memphis and Houston, two defenses that blitz coming off the bus and don't stop blitzing until they get back on it. The volume of blitzes is probably a bit lower than those two, but the variety of their blitz packages is impressive and they are obviously more effective at it than either the Cougars or Tigers. This game for the UC offense is going to come down to the UC offensive line giving Brendon Kay time against this pass rush.
It took 500 words or so, but finally, crack in the armour for this Cardinals team. The red zone offense. In the more confined spaces of the red zone the spacing of the Cardinals passing attack condenses. Even Teddy Bridgewater feels the effect of that. In the red zone the balance of the offense inverts. For the year the Cardinals approach perfect balance, running on 52 percent of their plays and passing on 48. In the red zone those same numbers become 64 percent run, 36 percent pass. Bearcats fans should treat every Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry run in the red zone like mana from heaven because those runs are far less efficient for putting touchdowns on the board than letting Bridgewater make plays. Red zone runs are field goals waiting to happen for the Cardinals, and field goals won't win this game.