Saturday, Louisville will travel to Syracuse for their first Big East road test of the season.
"Syracuse concerns (me)," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "They've got that big quarterback who to me is playing real well. He's only thrown two interceptions and he's difficult to tackle. They're going to throw it deep and try to run the ball on us."
Coming off a, 23-17, win over Cincinnati last week, Petrino hopes to get his once high-flying offense back in gear against an Orange defense that ranks 111th nationally against the run.
Petrino's offense has struggled in recent weeks to run the ball, gaining just 105 yards on the ground last week against the Bearcats, and have hurt themselves with uncharacteristic turnovers.
"We've got to go up there and execute," Petrino said. "I like the game when we're controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage and we get the other team behind and force them to throw the ball."
Louisville didn't control the clock or the line of scrimmage against Cincinnati. The Bearcats rushed for over 200 yards and won the time of possession battle 37-23.
"Cincinnati had great patience," Petrino said. "They weren't going to get in a situation where we could tee-off with the pass rush. They were trying to eat the clock and play defense with their offense."
Petrino said a combination of factors have hurt Louisville's once-potent ground game.
"It's everything," Petrino said. "It's not coming off the ball as quick as we have at times. It's not sustaining our blocks and hitting the (hole) full speed. It's been a work in progress and we need to improve it quickly."
Syracuse has been anemic on offense this season, though quarterback Perry Patterson has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. The Orange (3-4, 0-2) lost, 41-17, to West Virginia last week in Morgantown after trailing just, 17-14, at the break. Louisville won 41-17 last season but lost Brian Brohm with a torn ACL in the game.
"We need to be aggressive and get a lead," Petrino said. "That's what we need to do. That's the way we like to play. We just didn't do it last week."
more carries against Syracuse?
Syracuse's defense has been adept at forcing turnovers this season and rank eighth nationally with a +8 turnover margin. That's probably not good news for a Louisville offense that's looking to get back on track. The Cardinals committed three turnovers in last Saturday's, 23-17, win over Cincinnati, and have turned it over eight times the past three games.
"Turnovers are a concern," Petrino said. "We've got to get (George) Stripling carrying the ball right. Patrick's turned the ball over twice and that can't happen from our punt return team."
Syracuse also ranks third nationally in sacks per game (4.33) and will try to apply plenty of pressure to Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who threw for 324 yards and one touchdown last week against Cincinnati. Syracuse defensive end Jameel McClain leads the Big East Conference with seven sacks this season.
"They don't have as many good players on defense as they did a year ago, but they sack the quarterback," Petrino said. "They've got 26 sacks and the McClain kid has seven by himself. We'll have to do a good job protecting the quarterback. And they were leading the conference in turnover margin."
That's something – keeping the quarterback upright - that Louisville's offensive line has done a good job so far this season. The Cardinals have allowed just seven sacks in six games.
"I thought our pass protection, for the most part, was very good last week," Petrino said. "And (UC) had good rush guys. Who knows, maybe we'll come out in no-huddle this week."
Petrino has had to deal with injuries all season long, and this game won't be any different. Though the Cardinals have gotten back several injured players the past two weeks, the Louisville defense will be without senior defensive end Zach Anderson this weekend. Anderson, Louisville's second-leading tackler, sprained his knee last week against Cincinnati and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks.
"We're where we wanted to be going into Syracuse record-wise, but we're down a couple players, which is a concern," Petrino said. "Zach Anderson being out is a concern because he has so much energy and leadership to our team."
Petrino has plenty of depth at defensive end, but Anderson's loss could hurt the Cardinals defense against the run.
"Brandon Cox has played a lot of football around here and he's got to get going," Petrino said. "Jonathan Holston, now that he's back at full speed, can help us with the pass rush off the edge. Earl Heyman will be in there and be real physical against the run. I think we'll be alright with the pass rush, it's against the run where we'll miss Zach."