Cards need help, improvement to win Big East

If No. 22 Louisville is to win the Big East championship and claim the leagues automatic BCS bowl bid, they're going need some help along the way to do it.

The overwhelming preseason favorite to win the conference title, U of L now finds itself behind the eight-ball after dropping their Big East opener two weeks ago on the road against South Florida.

For the Cardinals to have any chance at redemption – and the league title – they'll need two things to happen: South Florida to drop at least two league contests, and win their remaining six conference games.

While the first part of the equation is entirely out of Bobby Petrino's Cardinals' hands, the second part remains firmly in their control.

It won't be easy for the Cardinals, though.

After this weekends game against a tough North Carolina team, the Cardinals dive head first into the heart of their Big East schedule. The most difficult game awaiting Louisville – an October 15 showdown at West Virginia – won't give the Cardinals much time to get ready after facing the Tar Heels this Saturday.

Petrino, for one, thinks the Cardinals have plenty of time – and opportunity – to get back in the thick of the Big East title race.

"I'm not sure if a team to beat has emerged," Petrino said Monday. "It's so early – it seems like all the Big East games are at the end of the schedule."

South Florida, West Virginia and Rutgers currently sit atop the league standing with 1-0 records. Connecticut and Cincinnati open Big East conference play this weekend, while Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh each are 0-1 in conference games.

"I got to watch the second half of Rutgers game the other night and they looked liked a pretty good football team," said Petrino. "Of course West Virginia is 4-1 and lost to Virginia Tech but that might have been expected because that's a pretty good Virginia Tech football team."

Petrino insists that his team can't worry about what the other league members are doing. Instead, he wants to see his own team continue to improve their play each week.

"I think we need to mostly worry about ourselves and getting better each week," he said. "I think it's going to be a pretty tight race (and) we're going to have to play real well to be in it."

"We're going to need some help, that's for sure," Petrino admitted. "I hope the (champion) has one loss and it's us."

There appears to be four key areas U of L must improve to have a chance to run the table the rest of the way in the Big East: "Red Zone" offense, play in the secondary, eliminating costly penalties and special teams.

Michael Bush, tied for the lead in
scoring nationally, could be the
answer for U of L's "red zone"

First, Petrino would like to see his offense become more proficient in the "red zone." This might be a little nit-picky considering the Cardinals have scored 81% of the time this season that they've had the ball inside their opponents 20 yard line. But against FAU last weekend, Petrino's offense twice marched deep inside the Owls territory in the first half and came away with just three points on those drives.

"We need to make sure we get touchdowns when we get down inside the 20 yard line," he said. "I don't think we're executing as efficiently as I'd like and I think some of it is that we're pressing a little bit."

Petrino would also like to see his secondary cut down on penalties and big gain pass plays. The Cardinals secondary, with three first-year starters, has allowed passes of more than 30 yards each game this season, including a 53 yard reception against Kentucky and a 57 yarder versus South Florida. Petrino has continually harped in the seasons first month for his defenders to play the ball better in the air.

"We have got to improve on the PI's (pass interference)," he said. "Two of those (against FAU) were just not having enough poise to play the ball. We have to have more poise playing the football than worrying about the receiver."

But the Cardinals haven't just been slowed by penalties in the secondary. As a team, they're averaging 9 penalties per game and have 76 more penalty yards this season than do their opponents. While some of the penalties have cost U of L scoring opportunities, several have helped sustain their opponents drives.

"It's a concern," Petrino said. "That's something we have not had for two years and we had some dumb penalties, a couple late hits out of bounds and clearly two of them were out of bounds."

Special teams have also been a consistent problem for Louisville. Already this season, the Cardinals have missed two short field goal attempts, and had a punt and PAT blocked. And Petrino was so displeased with his kick off coverage unit after allowing a 94 yard touchdown return against South Florida that he used several defensive starters last week against FAU.

"We've got to continue to work on our special teams," Petrino said. "This week it happens to be our field goal/PAT team. Getting an extra point blocked is something we can not have happen."

"And I wasn't pleased against South Florida (with our kick off coverage team)," added Petrino. "We got better last week (but) we had to (use) some of our st

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