"We're taking everything personally at this point," said freshman linebacker Dexter Heyman. "Our team definitely has a chip on its shoulder. We have to prove every week that we should be a contender for the Big East title."
Louisville certainly is a contender in the Big East. Only West Virginia hasn't tasted defeat in league play. The Cardinals find themselves bunched with several teams with one conference loss. With just five games remaining, the race for the Big East championship and BCS berth is wide-open for the taking. That means this is not time for Louisville to sit back and become complacent.
"Complacency is a human characteristic and it's innate in all of us but I don't think this team is going to develop that mentality," said Heyman. "The two games we lost we felt like we should have won. That keeps us going. We know any game can slip away from us."
Louisville learned that lesson a year ago against the Orange. Last season, Syracuse walked out of PJCS with an unbelievable 38-35 win over the Cardinals, who were a 34-point favorite. You can bet the Cards haven't forgotten that one.
look to pound the ball on
the ground against Syracuse.
"I was at the game," said Heyman, then a high school senior. "I wanted to put some pads on."
"Everybody just wants to win," said running back Brock Bolen. "We're taking it one week at a time and we see the goal that's at the end where everything is up for grabs. We have to take it one week at time and everybody has to give it everything they have."
Don't expect Louisville to let down this time around against the Orange. Bolen said this team has a different personality than last year's 6-6 team and has worked too hard to let down with so much on the line.
"It's probably one of the closest teams I've ever been on," said Bolen. "Anybody would do anything for anybody on this team. It's like a family."
This season, Louisville has had to overcome several injuries, particularly on offense. They've overcome injuries on the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary. Now, Louisville must again overcome the loss of Scott Long, the team's most experienced wide receiver.
Long missed the first four games this season with a broken foot but caught five passes for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns against South Florida last week. But Long sustained a season-ending knee injury during Tuesday's practice, delivering yet another blow to the Cards offense. Josh Chichester will likely start in Long's place. The 6-foot-8 freshman caught 18 passes in Louisville's first five games but didn't catch a pass the past two weeks.
"I'm very disappointed for Scott," Kragthorpe said. "We have to move on from this situation and get ready to play a good Syracuse football team."
Even without Long in the lineup to stretch defenses, the Cardinals have made solid progress on offense since being shut down by Kentucky, 27-2, in the season opener. Kragthorpe is hopeful his team continues to improve on the road this week against Syracuse.
"Well, obviously we didn't start the way we wanted to getting beat in the first game and not playing as well offensively as we wanted to," Kragthorpe said. "I think our offense has improved. We're certainly running the ball better."
The Cardinals are running the ball better for four reasons: Victor Anderson, Brock Bolen and Bilal Powell, and an improving offensive line led by senior All-America candidate Eric Wood and George Bussey.
Louisville is averaging 196 yards per game on the ground this season – 20th nationally. Anderson has been the big play guy for the UofL offense, rushing for 727 yards – a new UofL freshman record. Anderson and the Cards other running backs could have a field day against a Syracuse defense that is allowing 212 rushing yards per game this season.
"I think they're a team that we'll have to play extremely well on the road to beat," Kragthorpe said.
Louisville's defense is also playing good as they head north to Syracuse. Defensive coordinator Ron English has made a big difference in his first season, helping the Cardinals hold opponents to just 75 yards rushing and 23 points per game. Last week, UofL held USF to only eight yards rushing.
This week, the Cardinals must contain running back Curtis Brinkley and dual-threat quarterback Cam Dantley. Brinkley has rushed for 733 yards and four touchdowns, while Dantley has passed for 882 yards and seven touchdowns with only three interceptions. The Orange also expects to have running back Delone Carter back from injury.
"Dantley is playing well for them at quarterback," said Kraghtorpe. "He's a guy that can make plays with his feet. He's an accurate passer and big and strong. They've (also) got the third leading rusher (Brinkley) in the Big East and he's playing well."
Heyman says he and his defensive teammates will be up to the task of stopping the Orange offensive attack.
"We have a great group of linebackers who are flying around and making plays," Heyman said. "As a defense we've surprised a lot of people. Last year, a lot of guys were out of position but this year is a new year. I attribute all of that to Ron English. He's brought a new fire to our defense. We all love playing for him.
"(Adrian) Grady did a great job against (USF) and I saw an intense focus during the week from him. Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa are playing great football for us. Woodney Turenne and a lot of freshmen – Greg Scruggs – are playing some good football for us. A lot of guys are stepping up."
LOCATION: Syracuse TIME: 7:00 TELEVISION: ESPNU