Who: No. 8 Louisville Cardinals (6-0) vs. Central Florida Knights (4-1)
When: Tonight at 8 p.m.
Where: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Series History: Louisville leads 1-0. Last meeting: 1985, 42-21 (Louisville)
About each team
** The No.8-ranked University of Louisville Cardinals improved to 6-0 on the season with a 24-10 win over Rutgers last Thursday night. The Cardinals dominated the Scarlet Knights defensively, sacking Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova eight times and intercepting four of his passes. With the win over Rutgers and a victory against Temple the week prior, the Cards are 2-0 in American Athletic Conference play.
** The Central Florida Knights are 4-1 on the season, with their latest win coming from an Oct. 5 trip to Memphis. The Knights struggled in their meeting with the Tigers, defeating the conference foe by a score of 24-17 despite entering the game as a 9.5-point favorite. UCF's lone loss is a three-point defeat at the hands of South Carolina. In addition to their victory over Memphis, the team has wins over Akron, Florida International, and Penn State.
** Louisville head coach Charlie Strong is now 31-14 overall in his time at Louisville. The defensive-minded coach has now lead his team to eight consecutive victories dating back to last season.
** UCF is coached by George O'Leary. Now in his 10th season with the school, O'Leary has a 64-56 record at UCF and a 116-89 overall mark as a head coach. O'Leary coached seven seasons at Georgia Tech and served two seasons as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings before taking over in Orlando. His decade of service at UCF makes him the AAC's longest-tenured head coach.
Inside the numbers
100 - Friday night's game will mark the 100th game played in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Serving as the Cardinals‘ home since 1998, U of L has a 74-25 record in the stadium.
10.3 - Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova's quarterback rating in last week's game. Nova completed 19 of his 36 passes, was picked off four times and sacked eight.
16.6 - UCF's average points against. The average is the nation's 11th best and is by far the lowest total Louisville has faced this season.
45 - Touchdown passes thrown by Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in his last 18 games. The last outing in which Bridgwater didn't throw for a score was in last season's opener against Kentucky (19-21, 232 yards, 0 TDs).
3 - Sacks against Rutgers for Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith. The senior now has a total of six on the season.
160.4 - UCF quarterback Blake Bortles quarterback rating this season. Bortles has high ratings of 226.1 (against Akron) and 192.9 (against Penn State), while his season low is 84.6 (against Memphis). The junior has thrown for 1,334 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2013.
1st - Louisville's opponent's points-per-game average is still the nation's best at 7.3. The Cardinals have yet to allow more than 13 points in a game this season.
7 - Rushing touchdowns this season for UCF running back Storm Johnson. Johnson has 455 rushing yards on the year and is averaging over five yards-per-carry.
9 - Catches in the last two weeks for Louisville wide receiver Damian Copeland. Copeland has proven to be quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's favorite target in the absence of stud wideout DeVante Parker, who has missed time with a shoulder injury. Copeland racked up 115 receiving yards against Rutgers.
What to watch for
--As mentioned earlier, Friday night's matchup with the Knights will be the 100th game held at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, as well as the venue's fifth consecutive sellout of the 2013 season. As the Cardinals look forward to moving into the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, the program is looking to establish a nationally-renowned home field advantage. During their nationally televised meeting with Rutgers last week, U of L fans were given rally towels and noisemakers to show the ESPN audience the environment that can be created inside PJCS. Fans will get another shot on Friday night, as the game will once again be broadcasted nationally via ESPN. The school is asking that all attendees wear red. Friday night marks a golden opportunity for Cardinal fans to show their belief, love, and enthusiasm for U of L football as the program moves into one of the nation's best football conferences.
--UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will be, by far, the best quarterback that the Cardinals have faced this season. Many believed that Rutgers' Gary Nova would pose a threat to Louisville's stingy defense; but the quarterback threw four picks on the evening, making it a total of nine that he has thrown in three career starts against the Cardinals. Bortles, on the other hand, has done a great job protecting the ball in his time at UCF- in three season, Bortles has thrown 40 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions (three TDs for every one pick). Can the Louisville defense force Bortles into enough uncharacteristic mistakes to affect the game's outcome?
--Louisville has suffered big blows to their receiving corps in consecutive weeks. Against Temple, the Cardinals lost their top receiver DeVante Parker to a shoulder injury, and against Rutgers lost Kai De La Cruz, who had began to emerge as a threat this season, to a groin problem. It's still unclear if either will be able to play against UCF- both have been designated as day-to-day. Luckily for the Cardinals, the team has a wealth of capable replacements in Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers, Michalee Harris, and Robert Clark. The team could even put to use junior Matt Milton (a long, 6-foot-5 target) and highly-touted freshman James Quick.
--The most important thing to remember heading into Friday night is the fact that the game has big-time BCS implications. While many believe that the AAC is one of the weaker major conferences, that doesn't change the fact that the conference winner still holds an automatic BCS bid. Louisville and UCF have clearly established themselves as the conference's two best teams through the season's midpoint. Simply put, someone from the American Athletic Conference is going to play in a BCS bowl, and the winner of the contest will most likely be the one to take the bid.
Keys to the game
--Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has shown his affinity for running the ball in recent weeks. Expect much of the same in his play calling this week. Watson will likely use his three-man rushing attack of Dominique Brown, Senorise Perry, and Michael Dyer to take advantage of the Knights‘ No. 38-ranked rush defense. In their matchup with No. 12 South Carolina, the UCF defense allowed Gamecock running back Mike Davis to pile up 167 and three scores on 26 carries. They also afforded Memphis 118 yards on the ground.
--Injuries in the Louisville receiving corps could also encourage Watson to call more run plays. Watson hasn't allowed Bridgewater to throw more than 35 passes in any one game this season, and that trend could continue on Friday. The UCF pass defense ranks No. 42 in the nation in terms of passing yards allowed per game with an average of 213.
--Key for the Louisville defense will be putting pressure on UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles plays behind a solid offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked just seven times this season. Louisville ranks third in the nation in quarterback sacks with 23 on the year.
--Louisville's defense will also need to be conscious of the big play. UCF has a number of long touchdowns on the season, including a 58-yard scoring run by Storm Johnson and receiving touchdowns of 91 (by Breshad Perriman) and 73 yards (by Rannell Hall). Guarding against explosive plays was one of the Cardinals' biggest bugaboos in 2012, but the team looks to have patched-up any holes this season.
--Louisville seemed to have solved their kickoff coverage woes last week, when they used a medium-length "coffin corner" method against Rutgers. Here, the Cardinals would allow kicker John Wallace to boot a high-arching, short kick to the right or left sideline at around the 25 or 30 yard-line. The kick would collapse the returner's field and allow the coverage to get beneath the kick. The only problem is that the Knights have now likely seen the strategy on film and have devised ways to use it to their advantage.
With six games scratched off U of L's 2013 schedule, and six Ws scribbled next to each, the Cardinals are halfway home to their goal of an unbeaten season and a second consecutive BCS birth. When asked if his team is better now than the team that won last year's Allstate Sugar Bowl, head coach Charlie Strong is quick to point out that his players have advanced dramatically- both in performance and maturity.
"We are playing at a significantly higher level than last year. You look at us this time a year ago, we were playing good on offense and that was it," Strong said.
"The offense was kind of carrying us. What happened this season is all three phases are playing together. Even if one phase is not playing well, the other phase can pick you up. That is what has been great about this year. We are six games into it, but we want to continue to get better and continue to improve. Even our players know now when they have played badly. You don't even have to say much to them. They have an accountability and responsibility and they understand it now." Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. The game will be televised through ESPN.
Jody Demling: Teddy has a strong night in the spotlight. Louisville wins 24-10.
Michael McCammon: Bridgewater is on target; offense rolls. Louisville wins 34-17.
Corey Goodlett: Cards defense controls the Knights, gives the offense plenty of opportunities (that they may or may not take advantage of). - Louisville wins 27-10.