On Defense, This Cardinal Rules

Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil is five sacks short of breaking Terrell Suggs's single-season record of 24.
Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil is five sacks short of breaking Terrell Suggs's single-season record of 24. (By Matthew Stockman -- Getty Images)
By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 1, 2006

Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil isn't sure of the origin of his first name; he only knows his parents weren't avid fans of rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley. But someone apparently envisioned greatness in Dumervil, which has proved to be prophetic during his record-setting football career with the Cardinals.

Dumervil, a senior from Miami, needs five sacks in tomorrow's game against No. 12 Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., to break the NCAA season record of 24, set by Baltimore Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs at Arizona State in 2002. Dumervil, who this season became the Cardinals' first Associated Press all-American since 1957, already has broken two NCAA records this year: He had six sacks in a season-opening victory over Kentucky and has 11 forced fumbles in 11 games.

"He's had an unbelievable season," Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino said. "It started from the first game of the year, but also the impact he's made on all the games. Not only is he getting sacks, but he's causing turnovers. A lot of that has added momentum to the offense, given the offense short fields and the defense has scored touchdowns when it has happened, so he truly has had a great year. He's definitely an all-American and he deserves all the awards and recognition that he's gotten."

Dumervil, 6 feet and 256 pounds, won the Bronko Nagurski Award as college football's best defensive player, the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end and was named Big East Conference defensive player of the year. Along with his six sacks against the Wildcats, Dumervil had three in each of the No. 15 Cardinals' victories over Oregon State, Florida Atlantic and North Carolina. His two-game total of nine sacks in the first two games also set an NCAA record.

Virginia Tech's ability to block Dumervil will be a key in the Gator Bowl, which will be Louisville's first appearance in a January bowl game in 15 years. The Hokies might have to try to contain Dumervil without senior offensive tackle Jimmy Martin, who sprained his right knee near the end of Friday's practice. Martin, who has started 45 games in a row, the longest streak on the team, would be replaced by redshirt junior Brandon Frye, who has never started a game.

"He's really a great player," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said of Dumervil. "What did he have, 20 sacks, for a season? He's not as big as some guys, but he can move and he knows what he's doing."

Dumervil's lack of size has always been a concern, even after a standout career at Miami's Jackson High School, in which he had 78 sacks, including 30 as a senior. Dumervil had scholarship offers from Syracuse and Louisville, where his half-brother, Curry Burns, was a starting safety. Dumervil said he chose the Cardinals because of former coach John L. Smith's promise of immediate playing time. Dumervil played in seven games as a freshman in 2002, but had only two sacks during his first two college seasons. Then last season, he had 10 sacks and 11 1/2 tackles for loss and became one of the country's most feared pass rushers.

"I was 245 pounds coming out of high school and some other schools wanted me to play linebacker," Dumervil said. "But I wanted to be a defensive end. I just love getting after the quarterback."

Dumervil said he models his pass rushing after Indianapolis Colts star Dwight Freeney, who also was considered undersized for the NFL after an all-American career at Syracuse. Freeney, 6 feet 1 and 268 pounds, has 50 1/2 sacks during the past four seasons. Dumervil's older brother, Louis Gachelin, played defensive tackle next to Freeney at Syracuse.

"I believe I should be a first-round pick, but it's not in my hands," Dumervil said. "A lot of people may say I'm undersized, but it's an advantage for me because I've got instant leverage with my long arms. It's pretty difficult for tackles to block me the way they block normal defensive ends. I don't think you play the game of football on paper. I think you've got to play it between the lines."

Dumervil can improve his NFL draft stock against the Hokies, who allowed six sacks in their 27-22 loss to unranked Florida State in the Dec. 3 ACC championship game in Jacksonville. Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick is among the country's most elusive quarterbacks, but Tech has allowed 31 sacks in 11 games.

The Hokies will probably use tight end Jeff King and fullback Jesse Allen to help block Dumervil. Most teams used that strategy in trying to contain Dumervil, who didn't have a sack in the last three games.

"By the seventh game things started getting real crazy," Dumervil said. "I was getting double-teamed, triple-teamed, sometimes even four people. But it opened doors for a lot of other people on our defense because they were keying on me. And our defense did really well in the last three games, so that's a good deal for us."

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