Clayton White started shaking his head before the question was finished.

Even with Louisville running some of the same personnel that played last year against Western Kentucky, there’s nothing at all to take away from whatever happened in 2018.

“Not even close,” WKU’s defensive coordinator said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re not the same team.”

WKU lost by three points to a Louisville team that produced one of the worst seasons in Cardinals’ program history. Louisville went 2-10, gave up 50 points or more in five straight games and fired coach Bobby Petrino before the season ended.

New coach Scott Satterfield resurrected the Cardinals to a respectable debut against Notre Dame and most recently a 42-0 shutout win over Eastern Kentucky. Regardless if quarterbacks Malik Cunningham or Juwuan “Puma” Pass or running back Hassan Hall are lining up against WKU again, White isn’t taking anything from that 20-17 loss in Louisville last year as any teaching point for Saturday’s game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville (3 p.m. CDT, Stadium).

“It’s not the same mindset, so to me there’s no reason to go back and look at those guys, and they’re playing a completely different system,” White said. “A lot better football team.”

WKU (1-1) has hung its hat on stopping the run through the first two games, but faces its biggest challenge yet in a Cardinals team ranked atop the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing.

Louisville (1-1) is averaging 285 rushing yards per game and ranks ninth in the country in that department. Running backs Hall and redshirt freshman Javian Hawkins lead the way with 372 rushing yards between themselves, and Pass and Cunningham have combined for 176 yards at the quarterback spot.

In its season opener, WKU forced Central Arkansas to abandon the run game and averaged less than a yard per carry. The Hilltoppers defense carried that over into FIU last Saturday when it faced a mobile quarterback in the second half.

Kaylan Wiggins attempted just six passes while WKU held the Panthers to 151 yards on 46 attempts for a 3.3 yards per carry average.

The Hilltoppers are ranked 25th nationally in run defense at 85.5 yards per game and 14th in the nation on third-down defense at a 25 percent stop rate. The team has four sacks and 16 tackles for loss, led by 4.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage by defensive end DeAngelo Malone and two sacks from defensive end Juwuan Jones.

Linebacker Malik Staples, a graduate transfer from Louisville, knows the tendencies of his former teammates and knows the speed and physicality will be unlike what they’ve faced so far, but likes what his new team has limited other squads early in the year.

“It was a great confidence booster because it’s something we know we can do,” Staples said. “We can build off that and do that every week.

“Those guys are fast and physical. They hit the hole and they go. We’ve got to be very disciplined with our eyes and play our assignments well and do our job and what we need to do to stop the run.”

White credited the incorporation of the quarterback into Louisville’s run success. The Hilltoppers saw that last year at Cardinals Stadium when Cunningham averaged 6.1 yards per rush. Cunningham is still a factor in a Louisville offense that’s been simplified under Satterfield, but it’s Pass that’s been the quarterback so far.

“They’re doing a good job of using their quarterback in the run game and using their tight ends in motion and shifts, and the offensive line is doing a great job,” White said.

As strong as Louisville’s rushing attack has been, Pass is still effective through the air at 7.38 yards per pass attempt with four touchdowns. After allowing explosive plays to help Central Arkansas rack up over 400 yards through the air in Week 1, WKU kept FIU to 66 yards passing on 18 attempts last Saturday.

WKU felt it got a similar look in Wiggins’ skill set from FIU to what the Hilltoppers will see this Saturday against the Cardinals at quarterback.

“He had great feet and awareness and vision down the field, good moves in the open field,” WKU defensive back Antwon Kincade said. “I believe this week is going to be (similar) preparation and we’re ready for it.

“It’s a big opponent, an ACC opponent. Going to have to be a very physical game and we have to be prepared and our task is to pound, pound, pound because we’re going to need it because they’re very tough up front and we’re looking forward to it.”{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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