LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville's plan to double up on its ground game has turned out better than the No. 16 Cardinals had scripted.
Splitting carries between running backs Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright has improved the ground game, which has resulted in a more balanced Louisville offensive attack entering Saturday's Big East Conference game against South Florida.
Perry leads Louisville (6-0, 1-0) with 559 yards and nine touchdowns on 96 carries, just three less than Wright's 99 attempts for 450 yards and six TDs.
Most notable is Louisville's 17 rushing touchdowns, four more than all of last season.
Though passing still accounts for nearly 60 percent of the Cardinals' 2,455 yards, the ground game's improvement has eased the burden on sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
"Each week when you break down the percentage of yards, it's almost even, like 50/50 or 60/40," Bridgewater said. Offensive coordinator Shawn "Watson does a great job of just calling plays and developing a great game plan."
Bridgewater said he could almost see the balance coming.
"That's how it was in the spring and training camp," he said. "We had a balanced identity."
As the season has progressed, Perry and Wright have taken turns having big games.
Perry earned Big East offensive honors for last week's four-touchdown, 101-yard performance on just 12 carries at Pitt. Trailing 21-17 at halftime, he rallied the Cardinals with three second-half scores including a 59-yard run with 2:25 remaining to seal the 45-35 victory in their conference opener.
Wright had the other touchdown from 4 yards, finishing with 61 on 13 carries.
It marked Louisville's fifth game with a 100-yard rusher, after just one last year.
"We weren't satisfied because we both could've come out with a hundred yards in the game or more," said Perry, whose 54 points lead the conference. "But there are a lot of things we need to get done and are going to get done.
"We were more satisfied with the 'W.' "
Wright has had his moments, too. He scored three times and rushed for 105 yards in a season-opening victory over Kentucky — Perry had a game-high 108 yards in that game — adding 114 and a touchdown on 20 touches two games later to help Louisville beat North Carolina.
Where the 6-foot Perry's quickness has allowed him to break big plays, 5-foot-11 Wright has displayed every-down back ability while starting each game. Both though have had 20-carry games.
"Coaches wanted us to go hard every day," said Wright, adding that they support each other through the competition. "One of us tries to make good plays, and the other tries to come back (and do the same). That's what keeps our edge."
At first glance this looks like a carryover from last season, when six yards separated Victor Anderson (539) and Dominique Brown, who carried a team-high 140 times. In fact, the Cardinals entered the season with Brown, Wright and Perry competing for the starting job before Brown's knee injury created a two-way battle.
The obvious difference is that both are more experienced, and that has advanced the rushing attack. No doubt, Bridgewater's passing (1,438 yards, 9 TDs) makes the Cardinals go; but he's running less often than last season as defenses have had to account for Perry and Wright.
And they haven't made it easy, especially with the offensive line clearing big holes for them.
The run game "is so critical to our offense," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said this week. "It's run and pass. If you watch our offense, we are a play-action, bootleg team where we try and get the ball down the field. In order for Teddy to have the games he's having, playing as well as he's playing, we have to be able to run the football. We've been able to run the ball thus far."
The results are nearly a 46-yard improvement to 167 yards per game, third best in the Big East behind Cincinnati — next week's opponent — and Temple. Louisville ranked fifth last season.
And in following the plan, Perry and Wright hope the ground game can reach the point where it gets more attention — albeit divided between them.
"We just picked up where we left off last season and got better at it," Wright said.
Added Perry, "We didn't envision this at all. Jeremy's a hard worker at what he does and I didn't knock him when he got the starting position, because whoever is out there is going to handle the job."