Rust Off?

Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm appears to be rounding back into form after completing 18-of-26 passes for 203 yards last week against Syracuse. Has the 6'4 junior shaken the rust off after returning from thumb surgery two weeks ago?

Louisville ranks among the Top 10 nationally in four major offensive statistical categories. Yet something isn't quite right with the Cardinals offense.

In the four games since beating Miami, 31-7, in late September, Louisville has looked disjointed on offense, failing to score at least 30 points in three of the past four games. That's significant for an offense accustomed to piling up points and yardage at a much higher clip.

The Cards' problems can be blamed on a number of factors, including injuries to star running back Michael Bush and starting quarterback Brian Brohm, an inconsistent running game, and turnovers.

"We've been a little bit out of sync offensively and I think some of that has to do with the changing of the quarterback," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We've not taken advantage of some of the opportunities that have been there and turning the ball over, which is uncharacteristic for us. We certainly have to get that fixed or we're going to be in big trouble."

The Cardinals have also started out slowly on offense in each of their past four games, a disturbing trend for a team that likes to jump on opponents early. In each of the past three games against Middle Tennessee, Cincinnati and Syracuse, Louisville has trailed during the first half of play. In two Big East games, the Cards led just, 13-10, against the Bearcats and, 7-6, against the Orange at halftime.

What's the problem? Petrino attributes his teams' slow starts to drive killing dropped passes and errant throws.

"We've got to get that fixed and be able to come out and execute perfectly (early)," Brohm said. "Basically it's been one guy here or one guy there (making) a mistake."

Though Brohm returned against Cincinnati after missing two games because of a thumb injury, the 6'4 junior is still trying to get back to form. While he's thrown for 527 yards the past two games, Brohm's also made some bad decisions and a few errant throws that cost Louisville excellent scoring opportunities.

Has Brohm finally shaken off the rust?

"We knew there was going to be some rust there," Petrino said. "He's made two uncharacteristic interceptions the last two games. So it's good to get the (mistakes) behind him and just focusing on him getting better."

"There was rut to get off," admitted Brohm, who completed 18-26 passes against Syracuse last week. "I think just getting back into the flow will help me for this game."

After shaking the rust off the past two weeks, Brohm feels like he's finally getting back on track physically heading into the showdown with fourth-ranked West Virginia next week.

"It's (thumb) back to normal now," Brohm said Thursday. "I'm taking the brace down a little bit and making it a little smaller to get a little more mobility without the brace being as long. My zip has started to come back the last few days. It's almost back to where it was before."

Though Brohm and Louisville have faced improved Big East teams in Cincinnati and Syracuse the past two weeks, the Cardinals now face their biggest test of the season against a team that claims the nation's second longest winning streak (14).

"This is a huge game, but we've been in big games before," Brohm said. "It's just another game standing in our way of our goal to win the conference championship. The winner of this game, I think, is in the driver's seat to win the Big East."

Last year, Louisville took a, 24-7, lead into the fourth quarter against West Virginia in Morgantown only to fall, 46-44, in triple overtime. While WVU's Pat White and Steve Slaton get most of the headlines, Brohm said the Mountaineer defense presents plenty of challenges itself."

"I think their defense is pretty solid," Brohm said. "They try not to give up the big play. They'll let you have the stuff underneath, but they don't give up many big plays. They're kind of bend but don't break and they make you earn what you get."

West Virginia uses an unusual 3-3-5 defensive alignment that is designed to slow opponents down and prevent big pass plays down the field.

"The most important thing is to stay patient and not force things," Brohm said. "We need to take what they give us and put together some long sustainable drives."

"You've got two offenses that can put up some points and two defenses that have played well so far this year and haven't given up a whole lot of points. It could be a shoot out or a low scoring game. You never know in these types of games."

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