Sunday, September 26, 2004

Louisville smothers Tar Heels

No. 24 Louisville 34, North Carolina 0

By Aaron Beard
The Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - For the past two years, Louisville has been best known for its offense. The Cardinals' defense sure seems determined to change that.

Eric Shelton ran for three touchdowns and No. 24 Louisville earned its second shutout of the season with a 34-0 victory over North Carolina on Saturday.

Shelton rushed for 86 yards to lead the Cardinals, who improved to 3-0 for the second straight season under coach Bobby Petrino. Brian Brohm added a touchdown run and Michael Bush ran for 82 yards.

Louisville averaged 35 points in 15 games under Petrino coming in, but the Cardinals didn't need much offense Saturday. Their defense shut down North Carolina's balanced attack, closing just about every running lane and allowing few gains through the air.

Louisville, which ranked 11th nationally by allowing 10.5 points per game, opened the season with a 28-0 win against Kentucky.

Those numbers are quite an improvement from the final five games of last season, when the unit allowed at least 31 points in each game and the Cardinals stumbled to a 2-3 finish.

"We're trying to gain a little respect each game, and hopefully it's working," defensive tackle Bobby Leffew said.

North Carolina (2-2) came in averaging 36 points and 478 yards, but the Tar Heels finished with 222 total yards. They also committed two turnovers inside Louisville's 20.

"I was a little surprised ... that we shut them out," Petrino said. "I really felt that there would be some points scored on both sides and it would be a game we'd end up winning in the fourth quarter."

Actually, the Cardinals won it with a dominating third quarter. Shelton ran for two touchdowns while the defense allowed just 41 yards, turning a 10-0 halftime lead into a comfortable margin that had blue-clad Tar Heel fans heading for the exits early at Kenan Stadium.

It was a demoralizing way for North Carolina to follow last week's 34-13 win against Georgia Tech, a game that coach John Bunting hoped would build momentum heading into a difficult stretch that includes Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.

In that game, the Tar Heels forced five turnovers - their first takeaways of the year - and got 161 rushing yards from Jacque Lewis to lead an efficient offense.

But on Saturday, North Carolina looked a lot like the team that struggled in its opening win against Division I-AA William & Mary and its lopsided loss to Virginia. Louisville moved the ball effectively throughout the game, with Stefan LeFors going 13-for-16 with 123 yards to complement the Shelton-Bush running tandem.

"That was a very disappointing loss to a team that is a very fine football team ... but a team we hoped to play a heck of a lot better than we did," Bunting said.

The Cardinals had not played in two weeks - last week's scheduled game at Tulane was postponed due to Hurricane Ivan - but came out with 14- and 12-play scoring drives that built the halftime lead.

The Cardinals went on to pile up 455 yards and 30 first downs. They didn't seem to miss running back Lionel Gates, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in practice this week. Gates, Bush and Shelton had shared carries this season.

"I expected them to be real confident just from the way they played last week," Shelton said of the Tar Heels. "So I knew that the offense would have to bring its A-game."

The Cardinals opened the game with a 77-yard scoring drive that took 61/2 minutes off the clock, ending with Shelton's 1-yard TD run.

After the Tar Heels went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, Shelton pushed the lead to 17-0 with a 37-yard touchdown run. He hit the right side, then split defenders Jacoby Watkins and Linwood Williams - who managed little more than attempted arm tackles - on his way to the end zone.

Shelton scored his third touchdown midway through the third, plowing over Gerald Sensabaugh for a 1-yard score and a 24-0 lead.

Darian Durant, who owns North Carolina's career passing and total offense records, went 10-for-19 for 80 yards and an interception. Chad Scott rushed for 33 yards - 31 coming on one carry - to lead a ground attack which gained 285 yards against the Yellow Jackets. Lewis had just 29 yards on eight carries.

The Tar Heels were without starting tailback Ronnie McGill, who sprained an ankle in last week's win.

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