Though Charlie Strong's Cardinals are riding a two-game winning streak into Morgantown this weekend, Louisville will be a significant underdog against No. 24 West Virginia.
"We know it is going to be in a hostile environment," Strong said. "We have to play well in all three phases. We just have to be on our game and make sure our players stay focused. You are going to have to play with a lot of confidence. It is going to be an atmosphere where you are going to have to show some toughness. We have to pack our defense. We have to pack our kicking game. We have to pack our togetherness. We are just going to have to play well as a football team."
Louisville is coming off its most complete performance of the season against Syracuse, a convincing 27-10 win, last week. They'll try to build on that performance Saturday against West Virginia. At 2-1 in the Big East standings, Louisville and West Virginia need a win to remain in the Big East title hunt.
If Louisville hopes to steal victory in Morgantown for the first time in two decades, the Cardinals will have to slow down West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers high-powered offensive attack. West Virginia has scored 40 or more points in two of three Big East games, including 41 in a comeback victory at Rutgers last Saturday.
Smith, perhaps the top quarterback in the league, has thrown for 2,715 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Behind Smith, West Virginia ranks seventh in the nation in passing offense. The Mountaineers passing game will pose a major challenge for a UofL secondary that will start two true freshmen.
"You talk about arguably the best quarterback in the conference in (Geno) Smith," linebacker Dexter Heyman said. "One thing they do is they throw the ball well downfield. You talk about two big play threats on the outside in Tavon Austin and (Stedman) Bailey. They have big play (capability).
"It is going to be a real test, especially for our secondary. I think they are up for the challenge. You talk about corners like Andrew Johnson and Adrian Bushell, who I really feel are coming along this year. Also, Terrell Floyd. Those are going to have a really big-time challenge in front of them, but it is nothing I don't think they can't handle."
If Louisville can ground West Virginia's high-flying passing game, the Cardinals could spring a major upset on the Mountaineers.
"It would be a definite step in the right direction when you talk about coming off of a three-game skid and bounce back and win three-straight," Heyman said. "Going up against a ranked team on the road would definitely be a great win for our program. But, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We want to prepare the right way first and the game will turn out the way it should if we approach this week with the right attitude."
The Cardinals likely will be taking a close look this week at Syracuse's 49-23 win over West Virginia two weeks ago. What they'll find is that the Orange physically whipped West Virginia up front, forcing Smith into a pair of interceptions, including one at the goal line.
"Our defense is really going to have to play well because you are looking at the number one offense in the conference and you're looking at the number one offensive player in the conference with Geno Smith," Strong said.