Struggling 'O' faces stingy WVU defense

Louisville needs a quick-fix on offense with a stingy West Virginia defense coming to town Saturday. Louisville's offensive production has dropped sharply the last four games, and the Cardinals will need better results to upend the Mountaineers for the first time in four years this weekend.

Louisville, coming off a disappointing 24-21 overtime loss to USF, now must put that setback behind them as they prepare for this Saturday's home finale against West Virginia.

It's a critical game for the Cardinals, who still need one win to become bowl eligible. Now, 2-3 in league play, Louisville needs a win over the Mountaineers to even their Big East record and stay on track for the program's first bowl bid since 2006.

"We have to persevere, but I think we'll be okay," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "We just have to bounce back. That's the thing about this game, guys get a chance each week to prove themselves. It was a tough loss, but we still have two games and we have to finish out the season."

Louisville's offense seems to have hit the proverbial wall heading into Saturday's noon game against the Mountaineers. Though Louisville continues to run the ball well on the ground, the Cardinal offense is averaging only 292.8 yards the past four games, including just 141 yards through the air. Louisville is averaging just 19 points during that span.

Bilal Powell returned against USF, rushing for 140 yards on a career-high 31 carries.
That's not good with a stingy West Virginia defense coming to town. The Mountaineers have one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking fourth nationally in total defense. West Virginia allows only 253 yards per game, and also ranks third in scoring defense and seventh against the run and the pass.

"West Virginia is a really good football team," Strong said. "They're ranked in the Top 10 in all categories on defense. It's going to be a challenge for us."

After suffering narrow setbacks against Syracuse and Connecticut, West Virginia blew out Cincinnati 37-7 last weekend. The Mountaineers recorded 13 negative yardage plays on defense – five sacks, eight tackles for loss. West Virginia didn't allow the Bearcats to convert a third down try in 12 attempts.

"We're going to have to block," Strong said. "But it's not just going to be the offensive line, it's going to take a total team effort. West Virginia is very good on defense. We're going to have to play well on offense. We're going to have to line up and go block them."

Offensively, West Virginia's speed will present a challenge for Louisville's defense. The Cardinals have played well on that side of the football recently, holding opponents to only 241 yards of offense, including just 113 yards through the air in the last four games.

"Offensively they have a lot of speed," Strong said. "You look at Noel Devine and Jock [Sanders]. They have enough playmakers to pose a lot of problems. That's what they've done for a lot of people."

Strong also wants to see improvement from his special teams. The Cardinals struggled with kick-coverage Saturday, allowing a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown that cut into a 14-3 Louisville lead that changed momentum minutes before halftime.

"We've just got to do a better job covering," Strong said. "We had a chance but missed some tackles. We had four opportunities to make the tackle and we didn't make the tackle."

Louisville did welcome back Bilal Powell, who missed the Syracuse game with a knee injury. Powell carried a career-high 31 times for 140 yards against South Florida. He now has 1,207 yards on the season, the sixth-best season total in Louisville history.

"He's played outstanding this season," Strong said of Powell. "He's been a model citizen on and off the field."

Strong provided no update on Adam Froman's status for Saturday's game against West Virginia. Froman, who missed the Syracuse and USF game with a leg injury, has been replaced by Justin Burke. Burke passed for three touchdowns against the Bulls.

"You don't want the quarterback to have to win the game," Strong said. "Burke is a veteran and knows the system. Everyone else has played good around him. The offensive line is still the staple. He's been able to come in and manage the offense."

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