How Louisville football plans to counter UCF's up-tempo offense and defense

Whether discussing the University of Central Florida’s offense or defense, there is one commonality Louisville football has noticed: the Knights have speed.

While it may not be as fast as it was during the days of Scott Frost and Josh Heupel, Gus Malzahn’s UCF football team is still all about tempo. It’s not an easy task to try and stop normally, but Louisville will have to do it on the road and with less than a week to prepare.

Coming off a 31-7 loss to Syracuse, the Cardinals head to Orlando to take on the speedy Knights in a 7:30 p.m. Friday Week 2 clash.

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How UCF's offense will challenge U of L

Offensively, UCF quarterback and Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee leads the charge. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver-turned-quarterback again opened the season with a stellar outing of 308 yards and four touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing to lift Central Florida to a 56-10 win over South Carolina State last Thursday, earning him an American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll nod.

U of L head coach Scott Satterfield called Plumlee a better runner and faster than Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader, who threw for 236 yards and ran for 94 with a total of three touchdowns against the Cardinals. Plumlee also has an arguably stronger cast around him with wide receivers Ryan O’Keefe and Javon Baker, who had 48 yards on three catches and 84 yards and a TD on five catches, respectively, against SC State.

“They have a slew of talent on that side of the ball,” Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown said. “What we'll do in practice, we'll have some up-tempo periods, to where we have to go really, really fast and call really fast and practice that way. I think if we can do that, we'll be OK.”

How UCF's defense will challenge Louisville

What Louisville’s offense faces will be no different, going against a UCF defense that returns all five of its starters from the secondary, led by cornerback Davonte Brown. According to Pro Football Focus, the Florida native didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage in 2021 while making 38 tackles and breaking up 13 passes. He opened 2022 with two tackles.

“They play a ton of man, but they also mix it up,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Lance Taylor said. “They do a great job disguising their coverage looks and disguising their blitz looks, but they're fast in the secondary. … We've had meetings with our scout team players to try to stress the importance to get that (fast tempo) look, that same look that we're going to see on (Friday) on such a short week.”

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Slowing down UCF is one thing, but doing it consistently for four quarters is another. Louisville linebacker Ben Perry credited strength and conditioning coach Ben Sowders for getting the team in shape to be able to handle what’s coming.

“Throughout the offseason, he had us doing some hard workouts like running, nonstop running,” Perry said of Sowders. “So, to key in on this tempo offense for us, it's just gonna have to be like keeping our energy of keeping us locked and keep us focused.”

Last year, the Cardinals had some success in slowing down the Knights just enough to escape with a 42-35 win thanks to Jaylin Alderman’s 66-yard pick-six. But much like with Syracuse, it’s a new year and UCF presents new challenges, especially as the second road game in less than a week.

“Looking back, we should have, early in that game, picked the tempo up, changed it up a little bit more,” Satterfield said of the Week 1 loss to Syracuse, “not just, methodically just trying to go slow down the field. Change the tempo, mix it up. I think we did a little bit in the third quarter, and we were able to move the ball better with the run-pass going fast. Just puts more pressure on defense, so yeah, absolutely. We’ve got to do more of that.”

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Following season-opening loss, Louisville football faces up-tempo UCF