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September 2, 2014

Brown sheds his boot for workmanlike effort

Dominique Brown sat in the offensive line meeting room in the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex wearing a large, orthopedic walking boot on his right foot as he answered questions from the media late Monday night.

A team spokesman said the boot was simply a precautionary measure because Brown had been "limping around for a week and a half."

He should have been toting a tank of oxygen, too. Because on Labor Day, the senior running back was the busiest laborer of all for the University of Louisville football team.

Whatever was wrong with Brown's foot or ankle, it certainly had no effect on his running ability or his stamina. He shouldered a workhorse load of 33 carries and 143 yards while leading the Cardinals to a season-opening and Atlantic Coast Conference debut win over Miami, 31-13, in front of a record, partying crowd of 55,428 in festive Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

The powerful 6-2, 241-pound Brown got crucial yardage time and again, especially on the clinching drive late in the final quarter, and scored a touchdown on a 15-yard run.

"Dominique had a great night, ran the ball hard," quarterback Will Gardner said. "We knew he would. We expected big things out of him; he's a big, physical back."

"He really, really played well for us," UofL coach Bobby Petrino said. "He really grinded. He came to me and said, 'Keep giving me the ball coach, and I'll find a way to get it in the end zone,' and I respect that. He's tough and big and physical, but he's a little worn out right now."

Is that true? Tired, Dominique?

"No, not really," Brown said, looking and sounding not the least bit weary. "The TV timeouts helped a lot."

Could he go 33 more carries?

"Hmmm. I'd probably have to get L.J. (Scott) or Brandon (Radcliff) to give me some relief."

Brown got a breather from Scott, a promising freshman, only briefly during two series, the third of the game and the last. Backup Michael Dyer has been sidelined with a leg bruise suffered in an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 16.

Brown figures to get more rest Saturday -- particularly if Dyer is available -- when UofL hosts FCS foe Murray State (1-0) at 7 p.m. in what figures to be a rout.

Against Miami, Brown was particularly effective on the closing touchdown drive that covered 67 yards in 7:47, put the finishing touches on Louisville's seventh straight win and kept Petrino's record in UofL's opener unblemished at 5-0.

Brown gained 38 of the yards and touched the ball on nine of the 14 plays. He converted a fourth-and-one on the drive, and rushed four times for a first down on third down plays, which he said were the highlights of his performance.

"I liked the third and ones, keeping the drive alive, keeping the offense on the field," he says. "I had a couple of those tonight. I look forward to those situations."

Overall, he turned in a workmanlike, if unspectacular effort, with most of his gains being in the one-to-six-yard range. His longest was 19 yards up the middle during the Cards' first touchdown drive and he added the 15-yard TD run, again through the gut of the Hurricanes' defense.

"The offense did a great job," Brown said. "Started off slow, but once we settled down and got the jitters out of the way, we did a great job."

Brown said he had no indication beforehand that his number would be called so often. His rushes and yardage were both career highs. His previous best totals were 137 yards and 27 carries vs. Houston last season. It was also the most carries by a UofL player since Darius Ashley carried 33 times in 2009, and it tied for the ninth-most in school history.

"If you had told me before the game that I'd get 33 carries, I probably wouldn't have believed it," Brown said. "With the kind of guys we've got in the backfield. . .we've got a lot of different guys that bring a lot of different things to the table. I felt like I was in a rhythm and Coach Petrino and Coach K (offensive line coach Chris Klenakis) were behind me and they just kept on giving me the ball.

"I was very surprised. It's a great feeling; he said stay out there, so that's what I did. It's great when you have that relationship with the coaches that you can give them feedback and let them know what you want to do and they listen to the players."

Through his first three seasons, Brown has either been injured -- he missed the entire 2012 season with a knee injury -- or had to scratch and scrape for every carry. Although he was UofL's leading rusher last year with 825 yards, he virtually shared the position with Senorise Perry. Brown carried 167 times, Perry 141.

Despite his performance against Miami, though, Brown doesn't expect life to get any easier.

"I'm still battling," he says. Once Mike comes back. . .and I've got L.J. behind me, Radcliff is a great freshman. So I'm still battling, and in my position I can't get complacent because other guys want to get in the game as well and they're pushing me to become a better player."


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