Football

Perry breaks out to lead Louisville running game in perfect start

Courtesy of Louisville Sports Information

Louisville running back Senorise Perry has become the team's leading rusher after having only a limited role in 2011. Through the Cardinals' four games this season, Perry has rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

In Louisville’s season opener against Kentucky, Senorise Perry showed he was ready to become a key offensive weapon with one play.

With the Cardinals up 8-7 early in the second quarter, Perry took a handoff and ran into a wall of defenders near the line of scrimmage. But rather than panicking, he bounced off the pack of Wildcats and found an opening, sprinting down the right sideline for an electrifying 47-yard score. The run marked Perry’s longest to date as a Cardinal.

“It felt good,” Perry said in the postgame press conference. “We broke it a lot in practice, so I knew it was going to happen. There was a lot of chaos inside, so I bounced it outside.”

Perry didn’t contend for the Louisville rushing title last season. He didn’t come close. Perry rushed for 27 yards on a measly 12 carries in 2011, ranking seventh on the team.

What a difference a year makes.

Taking a larger role on the Cardinals offense due to graduations and injuries, Perry has notched 340 yards and three touchdowns through only four games in 2012.

Through No. 19 Louisville’s 4-0 start, Perry leads the team in rushing yards and yards per carry with 5.5. The junior serves as a complement to fellow third-year player Jeremy Wright, with potential starter Dominique Brown currently sidelined due to a knee injury.

For Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong, the ground game has been a plus so far.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have two good runners right now,” Strong said in Monday’s Big East teleconference. “Both backs have been running the ball, and they’ve been running behind their pads. … They’re playing a lot, they’ve been splitting time, but they’ve been doing very well.”

Making Perry’s transition to dependable back more impressive is his relative lack of experience at the position. He saw action in 2011 mostly on special teams — in coverage and as a kick returner.

Perry averaged 26.2 yards as a kick returner while adding 10 tackles and a blocked kick, but remained mostly on the sidelines due to depth at the running back position.

Circumstances dictated a change for this year, and Perry has run with it. With 2011 leading rusher Victor Anderson gone to graduation and Brown hurt, Perry and Wright have taken the reins in the backfield — and they’re making the most out of each carry.

“What’s really great for us right now at the running back position is the yards after contact,” Strong said. “They’re getting hit, but they’re able to keep their legs moving and get yards. And our offensive line is doing a great job of blocking.”

This is not a year where Louisville’s offense can fly under the radar, as much-hyped sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals entered the season carrying a Top-25 national ranking, the only Big East team to earn the preseason distinction.

The newly-minted running duo fit the bill immediately against Kentucky, as the Cardinals cruised to a 32-14 win behind 108 yards rushing from Perry and 105 from Wright.

“We expect a lot out of our offense,” Perry said after the game. “If it happens, it happens. We both ran hard today and got to 100. And when we run hard, we expect to get to 100.”

Perry demonstrated great speed on his 47-yard burst against Kentucky, no surprise considering he was clocked at 4.28 seconds for the 40-yard dash in high school, according to the Cardinals website. He also won the Georgia state championship in the 100-meter run as a sophomore.

Running back wasn’t even Perry’s predominant position at Chattooga High School in Summerville, Ga. Still, he racked up 1,134 offensive yards and 12 touchdowns as a runner and receiver during his senior year. But he earned All-Area honors at linebacker, where he was ranked 139th nationally by Scout.com.

Now after two seasons on special teams at Louisville, Perry has another chance to prove his offensive prowess. He has avoided a letdown after the breakout performance against Kentucky, adding rushing totals of 72, 86 and 74 yards the last three weeks.

Perry has also added eight catches for 96 yards to complement his rushing totals.

With Bridgewater at the helm, the importance of passing in the Louisville offense is not going away any time soon. But with Big East play coming up, a balance of throwing and running is important for any team that aspires to play a BCS game in January.

If Perry can continue to prove he deserves to be a major conference runner, the Cardinals won’t have much concern regarding the ground attack as conference play ensues. Still, Perry knows that continuous improvement is critical if the team hopes to reach its full potential.

“Expectations are going to continue to go up,” Perry said. “We just can’t buy into complacency. We have to go out and play like the team we know we can be, and execute.”

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