Louisville faces a pivotal test against the Utes (2-3, 0-2). Win tonight and the Cards will enter the heart of their Big East schedule on a two-game winning streak with a respectable 4-2 record, while a loss would send Louisville into conference play with a .500 record overall at the season's half-way point.
After dropping back-to-back games for the first time since 2003, the Cardinals bounced back with an important road win last week against NC State. In that game, Louisville showed several signs of improvement, limiting the deep ball and cutting down on mistakes and penalties.
So, has U of L turned the corner? Are they ready to jump into their Big East schedule next week at Cincinnati? The Utah game should give us clue.
Like Louisville, the Utes have been inconsistent this season. Utah opened with losses to Oregon State and Air Force, rebounded with a 44-6 win over then No. 11 UCLA, before dropping their next game against UNLV. Utah is coming off a win over in-state rival Utah State last week.
"Utah's got a good football team," Kragthorpe said. "(Quarterback) Brian Johnson is becoming more healthy. He's a very dynamic guy with the ball in his hands. He's been a little bit banged up this year, separated his right shoulder, but he started and played the entire game against Utah State last week."
Kragthorpe knows Utah well. He lost to the Utes in the Armed Forces Bowl last season in his last game as the Tulsa coach. He's also known Utah coach Kyle Wittingham since his youth. Will that familiarity pay dividends for the Cards?
"I've played against this team before," Kragthorpe said. "We played them last year in Armed Forces Bowl in my last game at Tulsa.
Douglas tonight against Utah.
Louisville's offense, ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense, should find plenty of holes to attack the Utah defense on the ground. The Utes defense ranks 105th nationally against the run this season. That's not a good sign for Utah considering that Louisville got Brock Bolen back from injury last week and rushed for 247 yards against the Wolfpack.
"They're very aggressive on the defensive side of the ball," Kragthorpe said. "They'll bring a lot of pressures out of various front configurations and try to put pressure on the quarterback. They play a lot of man coverage and they're good at it."
Utah's offense has been anemic this season and injuries are a big reason why. The Utes lost their starting running back in the first game of the season and starting quarterback Brian Johnson missed two games with a shoulder injury.
"(Darrell) Mack rushed well for them last week," Kragthorpe said. "I think he had 130 yards against Utah State. They've lost some running backs in the early part of the season but they've got good depth and it looks like they've settled on Mack as being their go-to guy."
Kragthorpe expects Johnson to challenge the Louisville defense with arm.
"They employ a lot of three and four wide receiver sets," Kragthorpe said. "They do like to throw the ball vertically down the field. Brian's got a good arm and Tommy Grady can throw it down the field if he's in the game. So we've got to be very vertically sound and make sure we don't give up deep shots. And at the same time if they throw an underneath route we've got to make tackles."
Though the Cardinals steadied the ship last week with the win over the Pack, it's been a tumultuous week for Kragthorpe off of the field. Before the NC State game, Louisville announced the dismissal of linebacker Willie Williams from the team. This week, Kragthorpe announced that wide receiver/kick returner JaJuan Spillman and running back George Stripling have both been suspended and won't play against Utah.
While Spillman and Stripling are out, the Cardinals should have Harry Douglas and Peanut Whitehead back in action against Utah. Douglas and Whitehead didn't play last week and Kragthorpe said Monday that both players should be available Friday.
"(Peanut) should be back available," Kragthorpe said. "He had a family situation that transpired that he needed to take care of and family is first."
Date/Time: Oct. 5/8:00; Television: ESPN; Radio: WHAS; Series: Utah leads 2-0