LOUISVILLE, Ky. - OK, so maybe West Virginia isn't going to make a run at the Big East championship over the course of the final weeks of the season on the strength of its offense. But again, does it really matter?
Not if the Mountaineers' defense continues playing like this.
A week after its offensive explosion against Cincinnati, West Virginia's offense regressed again Saturday at Louisville. The Mountaineers amassed their second-lowest yardage total of the season, gave up a touchdown with a fumble in the end zone and punted the ball seven times.
But oh, that defense.
West Virginia held the Big East's leading rushing team to just 26 yards on the ground - 21 of those on a fake punt - and held the Cardinals' offense scoreless after the first five minutes in a 17-10 win over Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The win keeps West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East) alive and well in the race for the league championship and a possible BCS bowl berth. The Mountaineers have two games remaining, beginning with Friday's Backyard Brawl at Pitt. Louisville is now 5-6 overall and 2-4 in the conference.
"Their defense is very good,'' said Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who knows a thing or two about defense after helping Florida to two national titles as defensive coordinator. "They're the No. 4 defense in the country and they played like it today.''
How good was West Virginia's defense? Well, a week after holding Cincinnati's high-powered offense to no third-down conversions, the Mountaineers gave up just two to Louisville. The last two opponents are now a combined 2-for-25 on third downs.
And although the Cardinals were essentially without Bilal Powell - the nation's No. 5 rusher carried just four times after battling sickness the past few days - they weren't even competitive in running the football. Subtract punter Chris Philpott's 21-yard run on a fake punt in the second quarter and Louisville ran for minus-1 yard in the first half, minus-3 in the third quarter and just 5 yards on 29 carries for the game.
"Our kids are playing hard and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now,'' said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
Against the Cards, they were also gambling, although at this point in the season and after so much success, gambling might not be the right term. West Virginia loaded up against the run, blitzed frequently in passing situations and took its chances in the secondary. Louisville made it pay off a handful of times, especially throwing to tight end Cameron Graham, but all in all the strategy worked.
"We just couldn't get caught,'' coach Bill Stewart said of the defensive scheme. "We wanted to throw everything at them because we thought we could match up with them. And most of the time we did.''
Indeed, with the exception of tight end Graham, who caught six passes for 95 yards, Louisville's four other top receivers combined to catch just four passes for 29 yards.