There's a lot at stake for both teams. National rankings. A Big East title. And, perhaps, a legitimate shot at a spot in the BCS national title game in January.
Something will give when West Virginia's explosive offense meets Louisville's fast and nationally ranked defense. While the Mountaineers lead the nation in rushing behind quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton and average 41 points per game, Louisville boasts one of the nation's top run stopping and scoring defenses nationally.
"It's going to be a very difficult task for us," Petrino said. "They're a good football team. They run the ball and have tremendous speed with Slaton and White and we're going to have to do a great job of getting everybody to the ball and tackling. We have to go full speed on every play. That's the key."
The Cardinals are still smarting over West Virginia's 46-44 triple-overtime win last year in Morgantown. The Mountaineers rallied from a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit, aided by a controversial onside kick call late in the game that was later ruled by the Big East office an incorrect ruling on the field.
"Last year's game we played very good defense for three quarters and then we didn't tackle as well as we need to and missed tackles," Petrino said. "It was a great football game and it was fun to watch."
The Cardinals said that game was a motivating factor for the 2006 season.
"I'd say it gave us some extra motivation during the off-season," Wood said. "It definitely motivated us to finish, but we're not approaching this game like we've got to get them back for last year."
Petrino hopes his struggling offense can get off to a fast start tonight. The Cardinals offense, who scored just seven first half points in their last game against Syracuse, has been slowed by uncharacteristic mistakes and a sluggish running game the past weeks.
"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," 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."
While Petrino hopes the Cardinals take better care of the ball against the Mountaineers, he's confident his team's running game is back on track after an impressive performance against Syracuse, led by Kolby Smith's 165 yards and two touchdowns.
"We ran the ball well against Syracuse and it was great to see Kolby Smith get out and go," Petrino said. "It's good to get his confidence back. The line blocked better and they more physical."
"That gives us confidence this week ending that game how we did," said Wood, referring to the Cards 93-yard fourth quarter touchdown drive.
Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm says he's near 100 percent after returning from thumb surgery two games ago against Cincinnati. He was the star of last year's game through three quarters, methodically directing U of L down field and keeping the Mountaineer offense on the sideline. The Cardinals held an 11 minute time of possession edge in the first half, taking a 17-0 lead into halftime.
"You never really seem to catch them out of position," Wood said of West Virginia's defense. "They limit the big play by keeping everything in front of them and wait for you to make a mistake. We're going to have to work on sustaining our drives this week and keeping the ball moving. A six yard rush might be perfect to get us into a second (down) and four position this week."
"The most important thing is to stay patient and not force things," added Brohm. "We need to take what they give us and put together some long sustainable drives."
Louisville is also hoping the home field advantage will provide the winning edge. The Cardinals have been virtually unbeatable at home under Petrino. Louisville owns the nation's second longest home winning streak at 15, and is 19-1 at Papa John's since Petrino's arrival.
"They give us that extra energy to put it on teams when we need to," Brohm said. "This is one of the toughest places to play in America. It's a great advantage having this crowd behind us here."
While the Louisville crowd will be "blacked out," and pumped up, Petrino wants his team to peak emotionally at just the right moment.
"The key is to not to get emotionally ready until Thursday night," Petrino said. "We've had games like this before (and) our guys know what is at stake. This is what we have worked for."