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Published December 22, 2013, 12:52 PM

No. 18 Louisville prepares for bowl against Miami

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville's plan for its bowl game against Miami doesn't include a bunch of changes.

By: GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer, WDAY

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville's plan for its bowl game against Miami doesn't include a bunch of changes.

Sure, the offensive falloff was obvious down the stretch as the No. 18 Cardinals. Even quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked flat at times and Louisville had to work hard to score points in the second half of the season. But the Cardinals (11-1) averaged 453 yards per game this year.

So as Louisville begins practice on Monday in Orlando, Fla., in preparation for Saturday's Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami (9-3), the focus is on executing the same gameplan that has yielded a 22-3 record the past two seasons.

Having had time to recharge after the regular season and re-examine issues that led to their late-season offensive struggles, the Cardinals are eager to execute better against the Hurricanes.

"There's always room for improvement," Cardinals senior center Jake Smith said of the offensive performance. "We just need to be more consistent. ... I wouldn't say there's a need to pull out all the stops, but we want every facet of the game to be polished."

The potential exists for a big game against Miami if Louisville and Bridgewater execute. The Hurricanes allowed 26 points and nearly 416 yards per game this season, ranking 58th and 76th nationally respectively.

On the other hand, Miami's quick defense ranked ninth with 18 interceptions and defensive tackles Curtis Porter and Justin Renfrow pose sizeable obstacles to move at 325 and 320 pounds respectively. Louisville's failure to move the ball and score could create openings for an explosive Hurricanes offense that averaged nearly 447 yards and 36 points per contest.

Rolling up big numbers wasn't a problem early on for the Cardinals, who averaged 41 points per game through six games including a 72-0 pasting of FIU. Since blowing a three-touchdown lead in a 38-35 loss to Central Florida that ultimately denied them a third straight conference title, they're scoring just 29 points per contest.

Just as troubling is how out of sync Louisville and Bridgewater have looked at times. The Cardinals broke 400 yards just twice in the final five games while Bridgewater — projected as the top QB selection in next spring's NFL draft should he turn pro — hasn't broken 300 yards in his past four games.

Despite public criticisms of conservative play calling, Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson shrugged off the idea of changing things up and suggested that his unit just keep moving forward.

"We just keep following up with what we do," Watson said. Bridgewater has "been pretty good at doing it, so we just keep doing what we do.

"As we go along each week, there's obviously some things you've got to manage. Some of that is injuries and the scheme you've got to face, but we're always able to put our tweaks on that and get a plan to make him efficient. He's why we win, and we put him in position to help us do that."

Indeed, Louisville wouldn't be in this game without Bridgewater, who has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,523 yards and 28 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Though he wasn't at his best down the stretch, his gutsy 14-yard run on fourth-and-12 run followed by an off-balance 22-yard TD pass to Damian Copeland in the fourth quarter of an eventual 31-24 overtime victory at Cincinnati symbolized his leadership.

Watson concedes that the effort hasn't always been pretty. But if Bridgewater and the running backs have protection, that provides time and opportunities for them to do what they do best and Louisville can be as prolific as it was just a couple of months ago.

"We've got to put all those pieces together so that he can manage that kind of game," Watson said. "We do it in all different aspects: we do it in the run game, we do it in with run-pass checks, we do it with run-run checks and moving our protections and the quarterback around. ... We're very multiple that way."

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