Much of the pre-game lead up to the Cardinals – Hokies clash has centered on Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons superstar Michael Vick. But don't be fooled, this game is about more than Vick's play-making ability.
In reality, the game pits one of the nation's top-ranked offenses against one of college footballs most dominating defenses.
Who will win out? Consider these numbers.
Louisville has scored 40 or more points in 8 of 11 games this season, including breaking the 60 point barrier three times. However, Virginia Tech has allowed only two opponents – Miami and Florida State – to score 20 or more points. Incidentally, the Hokies lost both of those games.
Playing without Big East Offensive Player of the Year Brian Brohm, Louisville has a big challenge with redshirt freshman Hunter Cantwell under center. Cantwell, who led Louisville to a 30-20 win over Connecticut in the regular-season finale, will make just his second career start since replacing the injured Brohm. The 6-4, 220-pound walk-on sounded a confident note heading into the game, and expects the Louisville offense to have success against the tough Hokie defense.
"This offense isn't scared at all going against Virginia Tech's defense," Cantwell said. "We're definitely going to move the ball, and score some points."
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has his team focused. The Cardinals appear thoroughly prepared for the Hokies and have taken a no-nonsense, business-like approach to the game. Petrino understands that his team faces a major challenge against Frank Beamers' squad.
"It's going to be a great challenge for us," he said. "They are a very, very good football team. They're big, fast, physical, and very well-coached in all three phases of the game. We're going to really have to battle, make sure we take care of the football, try to force some turnovers, and try to get them into some second and third and long situations."
Slowing Vick and the Hokie offense will be easier said than done. Virginia Tech has scored 40 or more points eight times this season, and the elusive Vick has been a major reason for that success.
"We have to defend Marcus," Petrino said. "He's a threat to throw and run the football. I think he likes to throw it more than he does run it. But he can take off at any time."
Vick threw for 2,190 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. However, the Hokies also have a potent rushing attack to compliment Vick, led by running backs Cedric Humes and Brandon Ore. Humes and Ore have combined to rush for more than 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
According to Petrino, matching the Hokies strength in the trenches will be a major key for the Cardinals.
"They're very big and physical on their offensive front and they like to run the football," Petrino said. "We have to do a really good job of mixing up what we do and playing our game. We have to do a good job at the line of scrimmage."
Fortunately, the Cardinals have Bronko Nugurski Trophy winner Elvis Dumervil to lead the way up front defensively. Dumervil led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles this season, and though Louisville will miss the injured Montavious Stanley at defensive tackle, the Cardinals have boasted a solid defensive front all season.
"When you put the video on you see guys that don't execute because of the intimation factor against Virginia Tech," Petrino said. "That's the key for us. When we go out on the field, we need to hit first. We need to take a punch, and we need to give one back. We have to play aggressive like we did at Miami last year."
SOLID CROWD EXPECTED
Gator Bowl chairman Rick Catlett told the media Sunday that he expects a solid showing from both Louisville and Virginia Tech fans. Catlett said Gator Bowl officials project that the Cardinals and Hokies will bring 15-18,000 fans and that the game will rank in the top ten in bowl attendance this year.
Catlett publicly criticized Louisville's ticket sales earlier this month, but U of L sold its initial ticket allotment of 12, 750 and also requested 1,000 more tickets. Cardinal fans have been have a strong presence in Jacksonville this week. Several thousand U of L fans attended a Sunday morning pep rally in downtown Jacksonville, before heading to Alltell Stadium to watch Louisville's basketball win over Miami later that day.