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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (gocards.com)- Louisville's defense had something to prove.
Still stewing from allowing 510 yards at No. 9 Florida State and somewhat overshadowed by Boston College and its top-ranked defense, the Cardinals showed their stinginess early, often and particularly the Eagles' final possession. A drive in which BC hoped would at least provide an opportunity to tie went backward and ended with Trevon Young's fourth-down sack of quarterback Troy Flutie for a 4-yard loss that preserved a hard-fought 17-14 victory on Saturday.
"(Defensive coordinator Todd) Grantham kept saying all week, 'the No. 1 defense is coming and we have to outplay them,' " Cardinals linebacker Keith Kelsey said. "We've got to out-physical them and outhustle them."
The Cardinals (3-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) did that and more.
That final stand and sack capped a dominant defensive effort for the Cardinals, who recorded a season-high eight sacks and held the Eagles to just 79 yards including minus-14 rushing. Louisville tied for the eighth-lowest yardage allowed since 1962 and provided the last word in the expected defensive battle.
Sheldon Rankins helped the effort with 46-yard fumble return in the second quarter for Louisville's second TD. The 303-pound defensive end looked pretty nimble when he scooped up Jeff Smith's fumble after being sacked by Trumaine Washington, leaping a defender as he raced down the left sideline.
"It's been so long since I've carried the ball," said Rankins, who had two tackles for loss as the Cardinals made 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage for 57 yards. "I jumped, cut and got back to speed and got into the end zone and people started jumping on me."
Louisville allowed just one third-down conversion in 14 chances and tied their highest sack total since making eight against Wake Forest last season.
The performance offset a scoreless second half by Louisville, which gained 365 yards but allowed seven sacks and committed four turnovers. Harold Landry returned a third-quarter fumble 34 yards to set Jeff Smith's 8-yard touchdown, and Elijah Robinson's 12-yard touchdown return of a blocked punt proved BC's first TD.
That comprised the scoring for Boston College (3-5, 0-5), which couldn't take advantage of those mistakes on a cool, soggy day. The Eagles punted 12 times and their longest drive was 29 yards.
Not even the nephew of BC great Doug Flutie could rally the Eagles after replacing Smith. Flutie was sacked twice.
"There was effort all over the field," BC coach Steve Addazio said, "but eight sacks, I don't think I've ever seen that before."
Lamar Jackson ran for a 4-yard touchdown and completed 15 of 25 passes for 230 yards. Jamari Staples caught four passes for 96 and Javonte Bagley had three catches for 69. Reggie Bonnafonrushed 10 times for 56 yards as Louisville gained 365 overall, but just 166 after halftime.
"We just get too excited, too anxious at times," Jackson said.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino called it "ugly" but will obviously take it, especially with that kind of defense.
"We put a lot of pressure on the defense. They responded," the coach said. "They made all the plays when the pressure was on and really dominated the game."
BC wanted to redeem itself defensively after yielding 532 yards to No. 6 Clemson, an effort that didn't hurt the Eagles' ranking as the nation's leader at 196.3 yards per game. The Eagles also featured the top-ranked rushing defense (51.7 yards) and figured to load the box early and often in an effort to slow the Cardinals and mobile QB Jackson.
The Eagles' strategy had mixed results.
BC frequently chased Jackson out of the pocket en route to five sacks and picked off two long, underthrown passes. The Eagles also dropped Bonnafon twice.
But Jackson made plays when necessary to put Louisville ahead. The defense did everything in between.