Louisville takes momentum into Morgantown

After consecutive Big East wins against Rutgers and Syracuse, Louisville takes renewed post-season hopes into Morgantown this Saturday, where Charlie Strong's team faces nationally-ranked West Virginia.

Louisville's bowl hopes didn't look good after three straight losses to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati dropped the Cardinals record to 2-4.

But after consecutive wins over Rutgers and Syracuse, Charlie Strong's young team has renewed hope heading into Morgantown this weekend to face nationally-ranked West Virginia.

"If our team can continue to build and develop trust and confidence in themselves, then they have a chance to go finish this out the right way," Strong said. "It's a one game season. We have to go and get ready for West Virginia.

Louisville and West Virginia are in a three-way tie for second place with Pittsburgh in the Big East standings behind Cincinnati. The Mountaineers have won the last four meetings between the two teams and feature one of the nation's most explosive offenses.

"We are at West Virginia which is a very hostile environment, if anybody knows anything about Morgantown," linebacker Dexter Heyman, UofL's leading tackler, said. "We are going to have to strap on our boots and play a complete game."

Led by quarterback Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen's high-flying attack is averaging 38.6 points per game and ranks 13th nationally in total offense. West Virginia, which ranks just 87th nationally in rushing, does most of its damage through the air, throwing for 329.5 yards per outing. Smith, a senior, has thrown for 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 330 pass attempts this season.

"Geno Smith is an unbelievable player, he's the top offensive player in the Big East," Strong said. "His feet get him out of trouble. It's going to be a good test for our defense."

(Jim Davis)
Saturday's game will be a showdown between one of the nation's top offenses and defenses.

Strong's defense, despite starting four true freshmen against Syracuse, was dominant against an Orange offense that scored 49 points two weeks ago against West Virginia. Louisville recorded 15 tackles for loss, including four sacks, against the Orange and didn't allow a touchdown until the final minute of the game. The Orange mustered only 246 total yards against the Cardinals, who are one of two teams nationally (Alabama) to hold every opponent under 25 points this season.

"Defensively, you have to go play great defense," said Strong. "It's the plan to win, especially in this conference."

"From a defensive standpoint, you always want a lead going into the fourth quarter," said Heyman. "Any great defense will defend that lead in the fourth quarter and that is what we have been able to do the last two weeks."

Louisville will receive its toughest defensive test against West Virginia, which has scored 40 or more points four times this season and 50 or more twice. The Cards held high scoring Cincinnati to their second lowest point total of the season in a 25-16 road loss earlier this month. They're hoping to do the same against West Virginia.

"West Virginia is very explosive and can hang 50-60 points if you let them. One thing we have struggled with this year is stopping the big play," said Heyman. "That's one thing you have to do against West Virginia, execute and get off the field on third downs."

Louisville's offense has grown up considerably since the loss to the Bearcats earlier this month. The Cardinals failed to score in the second half as the Bearcats overcame a 16-9 halftime deficit. But Teddy Bridgewater and UofL's offense are coming off their best performance of the season against a solid Syracuse defense.

Louisville scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions against the Orange, taking an early 14-0 lead it never let slip. Despite their earlier second half struggles, the Cardinals scored 13 points after halftime, including a 61-yard touchdown run by Victor Anderson, the result of a perfect audible call by Bridgeman.

"The main thing is being physical up front at the offensive line," said Bridgewater. "Those guys are opening holes and protecting me back there. I just take my hat off to those guys."

The Cardinals offense could take another step forward this week against a suspect West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers allow 26 points per game, and gave up 31 first half points at Rutgers last week. Though West Virginia ranks in the Top 25 in total defense, the Mountaineers are just 59th in scoring defense and 47th against the run.

"We don't plan on changing anything," Bridgewater said. "We just want to execute our game plan. Coach Strong always says it starts up front with the big guys. You could see that against (Syracuse) and next week it will show again."

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