Cards look to take next step against 'Canes

No. 12 Louisville has solidified itself as a Top 20 program nationally. The Cardinals have been to eight straight bowls, have won 80 percent of their games under Bobby Petrino and are 17-1 at home the past three years. What they don't have is a program defining win. Brian Brohm and his Louisville mates will be looking to change that at home this Saturday against Miami.

Louisville's win over Florida State in 2002 might be the biggest in Cardinal football history. A win over No. 15 Miami this Saturday would instantly move to the top of the list.

Yes, the Seminoles were higher ranked when they came to Louisville than Larry Coker's team will be this weekend. Still, this is a huge game with much on the line for both programs.

Simply put, there's a lot more at stake for No. 12 Louisville this time around. For one, a win would keep alive the Cardinals national championship hopes. For another, a victory over the Hurricanes would signify to the nation that Louisville has overcome their final hurdle to reaching elite status – a major win over a perennial national program.

"I think this is actually a bigger game than (FSU)," Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm said. "That year they lost to Kentucky. There are bigger implications in this game for us than there were in that game because we're ranked now and (we) weren't in that game. That was a great win, but this one would mean more."

U of L coach Bobby Petrino realizes the opportunity now in front of his team. Petrino, whose offense is ranked No. 1 in the nation, has a sterling 30-8 record in three plus seasons at Louisville, but is just 1-4 against ranked opponents.

"It's a great opportunity for our team, our players and our fans," Petrino said. "The city is excited about the fact that Miami is coming in here to play us. We're both ranked. It's something our players have been looking forward to. In all of our preparation over the summer they were thinking and talking about this game. Now here it is, so we've got to get prepared and go out and play."

The Cardinals have been close in big ball games the past few years. Two years ago, the Cardinals led Miami by 17 points in the second half before falling 41-38 on the road. Last season, Louisville jumped on Sugar Bowl champion West Virginia in Morgantown, only to squander another 17 point lead in a 44-42 triple overtime loss. Against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl, U of L, with backup quarterback Hunter Cantwell replacing Brohm, let an 11 point fourth quarter lead slip though their hands in a 35-24 loss.

Eric Wood and U of L's offensive line will
have a major challenge slowing down
Miami this Saturday.

"I believe a win would help us take the next step as a program," center Eric Wood said. "That would be the next step – to beat Miami. We've had all those games in our hands and lost them. To finish a game like this would be huge for this program."

Wood believes the Cardinals have learned some important lessons in their toughest defeats.

"In all those games in the fourth quarter we let the game slip away," Wood said. "We didn't finish the game. It's no one's fault here or there. Our goal this off-season has been to finish. We will finish the game if it comes down to the fourth quarter. I guarantee that."

Brohm played two years ago against Miami, directing the Louisville offense to an important fourth quarter touchdown. The 6'4 junior knows Miami will present a huge challenge this weekend – and he thrives in these type of situations.

"This is good pressure," Brohm said. "I love this kind of pressure. It makes me prepare and play better."

Brohm, a Heisman Trophy candidate, said staying focused on the task at hand will be key for the Cardinals if they're to breakthrough and defeat a nationally-ranked foe.

"You can't let yourself get caught up in the atmosphere and the emotion of the game," Brohm said. "You've got to stay focused, keep your mind in the game and not let the other stuff get to you."

The Cardinals will be without three starters against the ‘Canes – running back Michael Bush, defensive tackle Adrian Grady and cornerback Rod Council. Still, odds makers have installed Louisville as a four-point favorite. That should have the capacity crowd at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium at a fever pitch Saturday night.

"This is a great opportunity," Brohm said. "I'm excited to see what the stadium is going to be like come Saturday. I think everyone is going to be very excited. It's a big time game and there will be a big time atmosphere here. If we can win this game it will take us the next step to achieving our goals this season."

Wood, one of the top centers in the country, leads a revamped offensive line that has allowed the Cardinals to rush for more than 300 yards in each of their first two games. The 6'4, 295 pound sophomore redshirted the 2004 season, but was on the sidelines at the Orange Bowl when the Cardinals lost to Miami. He believes playing at home, where the Cardinals are 16-1 under Petrino, will be a major advantage.

"We've got the comfort of our own home and the fan support is great," Wood said. "Playing here and being able to make any check that we want without having the crowd interfere helps us as an offense."

Louisville also will be motivated to win one for their injured star – hometown hero Michael Bush. Bush turned down the NFL to return for his senior season only to break his leg in the season-opener against Kentucky. He watched the Cardinals game Saturday against Temple from his home after being released from the hospital last Friday. Bush called Brohm with some advice – and a request – following the Cardinals 62-0 win over the Owls.

"He told me to protect myself a little better," Brohm said. "He's pulling for us and he asked us to win this one for him. We're going to try to do that."

If the Cardinals deliver one for Bush this weekend, it will be a major step for the Louisville program.

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