With two-a-day practices now behind them, the 13th-ranked Cardinals are hard at work preparing for Sunday night's ESPN showdown against the Wildcats. Louisville, which has won three straight and six of the last seven against UK, will be a heavy favorite in the season opener for both teams.
"We had a good camp," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said Monday. "I think our leadership was very good from our seniors and captains."
In Lexington, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks named Andre Woodson the starting quarterback against Louisville during his Monday morning press conference, effectively ending the competition between the 6'5 junior and fleet-footed sophomore Curtis Pulley.
Woodson completed 17-27 passes for 278 yards last season against Louisville. Petrino, who said he had anticipated Woodson would win the job, knows exactly what his team will need to do to slow down the UK quarterback.
"He's a good football player," Petrino said. "We saw last year that he could throw the ball and stand in the pocket and make a play. We've got to get pressure on him, that's the key. We can't give him the time to get comfortable in the pocket."
That might be easier said than done, especially now that Elvis Dumervil is playing for the Denver Broncos. Dumervil harassed Woodson the entire game in Louisville's 31-24 win last season, sacking him six times. Petrino hopes his re-tooled defensive line will step up without the nation's top sack artist around to help.
Nate Harris will play a big role for the
U of L defense Sunday against Kentucky.
"We're going to play at least eight guys and rotate them in along the defensive front," Petrino said. "I think Amobi (Okoye) has done a real nice job taking over the leadership role there. (Amobi), Zach Anderson, Earl Heyman and Adrian Grady will probably be our four starters there."
Petrino and the Cardinals also intend to slow down Kentucky's rushing attack, led by running backs Raphael Little and Tony Dixon. Little rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, including 71 yards on just nine carries against U of L, while Dixon returns to action after a redshirt last season.
"That's one of the big challenges – to slow down Little and Dixon," Petrino said. "Little's a good football player and he's a high priority for us. It'll be a great challenge for us."
The Louisville linebackers – Petrino said he'll play six against Kentucky – will play a considerable role in trying to slow the Wildcats on the ground. Nate Harris, U of L's leading returning tackler, said stuffing the run is priority number one for Cardinal defenders.
"Raphael Little is a great back," Harris said. "My main goal is to stop the run, and as a defense that's our first goal – to stop the run. Then if they pass, that's on the secondary. But we're going to bring pressure. Once we stop the run, then they're playing into our hands."
After building a 28-7 halftime lead last season in Lexington, Louisville – particularly a young and inexperienced secondary – watched helplessly as Woodson and the Wildcats went to the air for big play after big play to get back into the contest. This time around, Louisville corner William Gay expects a better performance.
"We're just going to come out and be aggressive," Gay said. "We really didn't stop the big plays last season. And we've really focused on that this summer. "We've focused on making the big plays and (getting) more turnovers this year."
Though the Cardinals have won the past three games against the Wildcats, two of the three contests were competitive games decided in the fourth quarter. Even in Louisville's 28-0 win in 2004, the Cardinals led just 7-0 at halftime. Petrino said he expects much the same this season.
"I think it will be a good football game," Petrino said. "It has been every year. It's going to be a tight, hard fought contest like rivalries are."
Stay tuned to InsideTheVille.com throughout the week for continuing coverage of Louisville's season opener against rival Kentucky.