"It doesn't really feel a whole lot different," said Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. "We know them real well and they know us real well. There's really not a big difference right now."
The Cardinals are coming off an impressive 63-27 thrashing over Oregon State, while the Bulls enter the game riding their own two game winning streak after wins over Florida A&M and Central Florida. And though U of L's first Big East opponent might be an old C-USA foe, the stakes have certainly gone up now that both teams are playing in the new league.
"We don't say it's more important but we do understand the stakes are higher this year because if you win the conference you're in a BCS bowl game," Petrino said. "That's certainly one of our goals but I can't say this game is more important than the next one or the previous one because right now there's a lot at stake every game we play."
A 22 point favorite tonight, Louisville has split the past two games with the Bulls, losing 30-27 in double-overtime two years ago in Tampa, while winning at home last year 41-9.
"We remember the double-overtime game down there two years ago," Petrino said.
If the Cardinals don't want a repeat of the last time they visited Tampa, they'll have to slow down the Bulls potent rushing attack, led by 5-11, 210 Andre Hall. Hall, the Big East's leading rusher with 128 yards per game, leads a rushing attack that ranks ninth in the country (266.7).
Louisville will try to stop South Florida's
Andre Hall, the Big East's leading rusher.
Perhaps Petrino and defensive coordinator Mike Cassity will take a page out of last years playbook, when the Cardinals limited Hall to just 74 yards on 17 carries, while allowing the Bulls only 203 total yards. "We did do a good job of defending him a year ago," Petrino said.
Offensively, the Cardinals had their way against Jim Leavitt's defense last year, racking up 517 yards, including a whopping 345 through the air. This time around, Petrino expects USF to be aggressive and apply pressure to sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm, the Big East Offensive Player of the Week.
"Defensively, they'll come after us," Petrino said. "They're defensive linemen run real well and they're linebackers are real fast. They like to blitz even more so than they did a year ago. They're a little bit young in the secondary, so they don't seem to be playing as much man coverage as they did in the previous two years. It'll be interesting to see how they play us."
While Hall will be the focus of the Cardinal defense, USF defensive end Terrence Royal will be one of the major focuses for Louisville's offense. Royal, who ranks third in the league with 3.5 sacks, leads a defense that ranks 5th in the NCAA in pass defense (117.3), 8th nationally in total defense (230) and 17th in scoring defense (13.3).
"We'll have to do a good job on him not only in pass protection but in run blocking," Petrino said.
Heat could also play a factor, with temperature expected to be in the low 90's at kickoff.
"I imagine it will be a hot, humid night down there," Petrino said. "I remember the last time we were down there it seemed like the hottest pre-game warm-up, then the sun went down and it wasn't too bad."
Petrino said there's another important benefit to playing in Florida – recruiting. With 23 scholarship players on the roster from the state, Florida is important recruiting territory for Louisville.
"I like it for the recruiting part of it," he said. "We go down Thursday and go out recruiting Friday, then go watch high school games Friday night."
He's also hoping there won't be any off-field distractions like the team experienced two years ago. Petrino said many of the players from Florida on that team were preoccupied with getting tickets for relatives and socializing with family and friends at the hotel, instead of focusing on the task at hand. That's why he's taken preventative measures this time around.
"I did feel there were some distractions involved two years ago because a lot of our (players) were worried about their family and (getting) tickets," Petrino said. "So we got that done and out of the way early (this time) and made sure that the (players) understand we're going down to focus on winning the game and that we're not going down to spend time with our family in the lobby."