Louisville returned to the practice field Thursday afternoon to prepare for their upcoming game against the Hokies. Petrino said the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up present a number of challenges, chiefly that they're very good at what they do on the field.
"They're not overly complicated," Petrino said. "But what they do, they do well, and at a very fast pace. They're a very, very good football team. It will be a great challenge for us."
More than anything else, Petrino knows his team will have to prove it can match the fast and physical Hokies blow for blow.
"We're going to have to go in there and really battle and do things right," Petrino said. "We have to make sure we take care of the football, try to force some turnovers, and get them into some second and third and long type situations."
Virginia Tech had a disappointing finish to their season. At one point, the Hokies stood 8-0, ranked No. 3 nationally and harbored Rose Bowl hopes. But those hopes were dashed in two late season losses to Miami, and Florida State in the ACC championship game.
Since the Gator Bowl paired his team with Virginia Tech, Petrino has studied those two losses carefully. He said it was clear from watching the tape why Miami and Florida State were able to upend the Hokies. "Miami and Florida State executed better in those two games and made the plays to win the game." What conclusions did Petrino draw from watching those two games?
"I think the biggest thing we have to do is go out and hit them back," he said. "We have to go in and match their speed and physicalness, be able to hit back, and show them that we can take a punch, and give one (back)."
Based on how his team played last year in a 41-38 loss at Miami, Petrino said he is confident that his team has the toughness to slug it out against a Virginia Tech team that ranks first nationally in total defense, and third in scoring defense.
Petrino has also been hard at work to devise a defensive scheme to slow down quarterback Marcus Vick and a Hokie offensive attack that averages 34 points per game, and rushed for 190 yards per contest.
"The first thing he does is throw the ball real well," Petrino said of Vick, who passed for 2190 yards and 15 touchdowns. "He's got a very strong arm. I think if they were to write their script, they would love to run the ball and throw it deep. They're very fast outside, so they'll challenge us with the deep ball - which we have to do a better job defending."
The Louisville defense struggled against running quarterbacks like West Virginia's Pat White this season. Vick, who rushed for 370 yards and six touchdowns, figures to present a big challenge for Petrino's defenders.
"He can run out and make plays on his own, and then they always have the designed quarterback run, which are difficult to defend because they get an extra blocker," explained Petrino. "There are a lot of extra things that you've got to defend."
To prepare his team for Vick's speed and running ability outside the pocket, Petrino said he'll use the athletic Pat Carter, a transfer from Georgia Tech, as the Cardinals scout team quarterback during bowl practices to simulate the elusive Hokie quarterback.
"We can put a pretty good guy out there to look like Marcus in Patrick Carter," Petrino said. "He'll probably be playing the quarterback (position) when we go to our scout teams because he's very mobile, fast, and strong-armed. He'll give us a good look there."
Petrino said he's also devoted a lot of time to trying to figure out what the best way to prepare for his teams bowl game is. After doing serious research on the subject the past three years, and carefully studying his teams preparation last year, Petrino has come to some interesting conclusions.
"I felt like the first part of the Boise State game our receivers were out of shape," Petrino said. "So we'll do some scrimmaging. It will be mostly ones vs. twos, and then we'll do a lot of our group work with the ones vs. ones so we get that fast look."
Petrino said his team will also do plenty of tackling in the days leading up to the Gator Bowl.
"We're going to have to tackle well, so to do that you have to tackle in practice," he said. "You would never go into your opening game without scrimmaging. Now we have a month off, so we're going to have to do that."
Whatever the outcome, Petrino said the game is an important one for his program.
"We'll certainly find out where we are as a program after this game," Petrino said.