Louisville has eight wins against schools from BCS conferences since the 2000 season. The only Division I programs from non-BCS leagues with more are Utah (Mountain West) and Brigham Young (Western Athletic).
Head coach Bobby Petrino is 11-4 since taking over at Louisville last year. Since his arrival, the Cardinals are averaging 35.3 points per game and have eclipsed 40 points six times.
Louisville is coming off a 52-21 win at Army on Sept. 11, after defeating Kentucky 28-0 in its season opener. In the win over the Black Knights, the Cardinals ran up 572 yards of total offense, scoring on eight of their 13 possessions.
Operating under a two-quarterback system for the first time in recent memory, starter Stefan LeFors (#17, 6-0, 200, Sr.) and Brian Brohm (#12, 6-4, 212, Fr.) combined to complete 26 of their 34 passing attempts at Army for 342 yards. In that game, LeFors threw for one touchdown and Brohm rushed for another. LeFors, first-team all-conference a year ago, led the league in total offense (273.1 yards per game) and was second in passing efficiency (145.46). He also rushed for 405 yards and three touchdowns last season. Brohm, who guided Trinity High School to three-straight Kentucky state titles, was named USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. He threw for 10,579 yards and 119 touchdowns, and was rated the No. 2 high school player in the nation by Tom Lemming in 2003.
Averaging 245.5 yards per game rushing, the Cardinals have an almost perfectly balanced offensive attack. Michael Bush (#19, 6-3, 240, So.) and Lionel Gates (#23, 6-0, 225, Sr.) provide a one-two punch, each with nearly identical statistics. Bush, listed as the third tailback on the depth chart, has 130 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. In 127 career attempts, Bush has scored nine touchdowns. A true two-way player, he has also been in on over a dozen plays on defense this season. Gates has also tallied 130 yards on two fewer carries and with three touchdowns. Gates' co-starter is Eric Shelton (#32, 6-2, 247, Jr.), who has 81 yards on 16 attempts. The Cardinals are 8-1 over the last two seasons when rushing for over 200 yards in a game, with the only loss coming against Miami in the 2003 GMAC Bowl. Fullback Kolby Smith (#33, 5-11, 203, So.), who has now fully recovered from off-season surgery, has a receiving touchdown this year.
The Cardinals are also blessed with talent and depth at the receiver positions, led by All-America candidate J.R. Russell (#3, 6-3, 204, Sr.), who set a career-high with 75 receptions and a school-record with 1,213 yards receiving last season. He caught six passes for 65 yards against Army and has now caught a pass in 26 consecutive games; however he has yet to reach the end zone this year. After suffering through an injury-plagued 2003 campaign, Broderick Clark (#4, 6-0, 195, Jr.) is the team's leading receiver from a statistical standpoint so far this season, with 162 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Joshua Tinch (#9, 6-3, 215, Jr.) used a great spring game performance to move into the other starting wideout position. A tough-possession type receiver, Tinch is averaging 17.8 yards per reception. Tiger Jones (#2, 5-11, 181, Sr.) and Montrell Jones (#86, 6-0, 199, Jr.) will also see action.
Adam McCauley (#45, 6-4, 232, Sr.) is tied for second on the team with a 41-yards-per-game receiving average. Yet prior to this year, he only saw action on special teams, except for a brief appearance at tight end during the Cardinals' 40-3 win over Duke in 2002. Backups Gary Barnidge (#82, 6-6, 220, Fr.) and Scott Kuhn (#81, 6-5, 245, Fr.) are relatively inexperienced as well.
The biggest offensive question mark heading into last season was up front. But after yielding 46 sacks in 2002, Louisville trimmed that number last season to just 13. The offensive line also allowed just 5.7 yards per carry last year – a school-record. However the departures of graduated seniors Dan Koons and Jerry Spencer have left holes to fill at the center and guard positions, respectively. Remaining are two all-conference performers in weak tackle Travis Leffew (#78, 6-4, 297, Jr.) and weak guard Jason Spitz (#59, 6-4, 308, Jr.). Leffew has made 26 straight starts and Spitz had made 14. Big Kurt Quarterman (#76, 6-5, 345, Jr.) took over for Spencer at strong guard, while former guard Will Rabatin (#70, 6-1, 304, Sr.) has moved to center to replace Koons. Renardo Foster (#79, 6-5, 327, So.) will start at strong tackle, rounding out a group that averages 316.2 pounds. Guard Bubba Marshall (#75, 6-5, 285, Jr.) and tackle Jeremy Darveau (#74, 6-7, 312, Jr.) should also play.
Two starters return in MIKE Robert McCune (#54, 6-0, 244, Sr.) and WILL Brandon Johnson (#97, 6-5, 208, Jr.), the team's two top tacklers. McCune, who had 143 tackles last year, already has 22 this season. Johnson, who recorded three sacks a year ago, has two tackles for loss this season. The SAM is Abe Brown (#42, 6-4, 225, So.), who moved over from the MIKE position this fall. Also expect to see converted quarterback Preston Smith (#6, 6-1, 212, Fr.*) and former safety Malik Jackson (#11, 6-2, 220, Fr.*).
The Cardinals return a solid nucleus in the secondary, with three starters returning. Florida transfer Antoine Sharp (#5, 6-1, 196, Jr.), who became eligible this year, has already made his presence felt by beating out former starter Antoine Harris (#25, 5-10, 184, Sr.) at the left cornerback position. At the other corner is William Gay (#21, 5-11, 197, So.), who as a true freshman last year, made 33 tackles to go with his team-high eight pass breakups. Free safety Kerry Rhodes (#1, 6-3, 215, So.), last year's team-leader with three interceptions, has returned one for a touchdown already this season. Strong safety J.T. Haskins (#31, 5-9, 178, Sr.) played mostly at nickelback last year, where Gavin Smart (#27, 5-9, 190, So.) plays now.
The Tar Heels' sometimes suspect coverage teams will have to be acutely aware of the dangerous Clark – averaging 18 yards per kickoff return, along with punt returners' Rhodes and Montrell Jones. Place-kicker Arthur Carmody (#18, 5-8, 181, Fr.*) has converted one of two field goal attempts this season – a 28-yarder. Punter Brent Moody (#15, 5-11, 193, So.) is averaging 46.5 yards per kick, while LeFors has punted once for 41 yards.