Big win puts Cards in thick of Big East race

Louisville's 24-20 win over 14th ranked South Florida Saturday at PJCS has the Cardinals well positioned to make a run at the Big East title in a wide-open league race.

There's more than one way to skin a cat – or, in this case, a Bull.

No, this is not the explosive Louisville team that lit up scoreboards on the road to Big East and Orange Bowl championships two years ago. These Cards, now 5-2 after a huge 24-20 win over No. 14 USF Saturday at PJCS, prefer to grind it out with a solid running game and a sound defense. Either way, Louisville now has positioned itself to make a run at the Big East title in a league where first-place Pittsburgh was dominated 54-34 by a 2-5 Rutgers team on Saturday.

While Pittsburgh was getting routed, Louisville did the two things it had to do to spring the upset on a talented South Florida team that had dismantled them last year in Tampa, 55-17: Win the turnover battle and play smart football.

The statistics bear it out this season – when Louisville comes out on top in the turnover department they win the game. Against USF, the Bulls had one more turnover than the Cardinals and Matt Grothe's second interception late in the fourth quarter helped seal the deal for the Cardinals.

Louisville also played a smart game. The Cardinals took advantage of the Bulls aggressiveness on defense in the first half with misdirection plays, a reverse, a direct snap to running back Victor Anderson for a key first down and a timely shot downfield to Scott Long for a 69-yard touchdown that put UofL on the scoreboard, 7-3.

Scott Long brings big plays to the UofL offense.
He scored two TD's against USF on Saturday.

Hunter Cantwell also took advantage of a USF defensive line that was over eager to get to him. On several occasions, Cantwell and All-Big East center Eric Wood quick snapped to catch the Bulls defense off-sides. That allowed Louisville a huge advantage in penalty yardage (115 penalty yards for USF; 50 UL) – a decisive edge in a close ballgame.

Louisville's defense also deserves a lot of credit. Though the Cards defense gave up 343 yards passing to Grothe, Ron English's troops held the Bulls 15 points under their season average. They did that by sacking the elusive Grothe four times, limiting USF to just eight rushing yards and holding the Bulls to just 4 of 12 on third down. Woodney Turenne and Johnny Patrick also came up with two big interceptions.

We'll also call this the signature win for much-maligned Steve Kragthorpe. Sure he beat a ranked Cincinnati team on the road last season. He also failed to deliver Louisville to a bowl game for the first time in a decade. This win is much more significant. Not only did it come over the nation's 14th-ranked team, it also gives Louisville an opportunity to compete for a top-tier bowl game this season – possibly a BCS bowl game.

Now, Louisville will head to Syracuse next Saturday with a three-game winning streak and some serious momentum. They'll also head up north with growing confidence – and the knowledge that they can beat any of the remaining Big East teams remaining on the schedule.

The Cardinals also have to like the way the rest of the schedule sets up. Sure, three of UofL's last five games are on the road. But the Cards get Cincinnati and West Virginia at home. And games at Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Rutgers look very doable.

But that's down the road stuff for these Cards. Louisville still has five more opponents to take care of business against before Big East titles and BCS dreams become realistic possibilities.

Still, it was a big day for Louisville at PJCS Saturday afternoon for this reason: It makes next Saturday's game against the Orange in the Carrier Dome an important and meaningful contest.

Believe it or not…Louisville is in the thick of the Big East title race. And there's a lot riding on the Cardinals trip to Syracuse next week.

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