Rested Cardinals Have Chance to Right Season Against Mountaineers

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville isn't ready to be relegated to spoiler status just yet.

Heading into Thursday's game at No. 6 West Virginia, the Cardinals think there's still time to save a disappointing season.

"It's an opportunity to go and get a big, big upset and go out there and show on national TV that we're still a good football team and we can still play," quarterback Brian Brohm said.

It's a phrase Brohm couldn't have imagined saying in the preseason, when it appeared the Cardinals and the Mountaineers would once again meet in early November with Big East bragging rights on the line.

The winner of the last two games has gone on to claim the conference title and a Bowl Championship Series game victory. Louisville won a 44-34 thriller last year in arguably the biggest victory in program history.

Thursday's game could be just as big for the Cardinals, who plummeted from No. 8 in September to out of the polls entirely after a string of embarrassing losses.

"Obviously it hasn't gone the way we planned," Brohm said. "But I think we've got to put that behind us and look at it like it's a new season these last three games and make the most out of the season we can."

The Cardinals (5-4, 2-2 Big East) will likely need to win at least two out of their final three against the Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1), South Florida and Rutgers to earn a bowl berth for the 10th straight season.

It won't be easy. The last time the Cardinals played at Mountaineer Field, they let a 24-7 second-half lead get away in a 46-44 triple-overtime loss that proved to be West Virginia star Steve Slaton's breakout game. Slaton scored six touchdowns as the victory propelled the Mountaineers to a conference crown and a win in the Sugar Bowl.

Brohm ended that game just short of the goal line while trying to score a game-tying 2-point conversion in the third overtime. More than two years later, the energy that pulsed through the stadium during West Virginia's comeback still echoes.

"It was especially loud toward the end of the game when they were coming back, all that momentum, you could feel it in the stadium," he said.

The Cardinals would like nothing better than to make one of the more rowdy places in college football fall quiet after ruining the Mountaineers' outside shot at a berth in the BCS national title game.

And though the Mountaineers rank in the top 10 in the nation in total offense and total defense, Louisville is hardly shying away from the challenge.

"We feel we can play with anybody, and we feel we're matched evenly with West Virginia," Brohm said. "We don't feel like they have any superior talent or any advantage over us. We can play with them, we can play with everybody that's left on our schedule. There's no intimidation factor going in there."

Maybe, but the Cardinals will need to play more crisply than they have recently. Louisville began the season as one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses but has averaged just 26 points a game against conference opponents.

"We have too many negative plays," Brohm said. "We just need to avoid getting in third-and-longs. If we can keep moving the ball forward, throw the ball away, avoid a sack, we can stop hurting ourselves."

Just as troubling has been the team's inability to put opponents away. The Cardinals let a 10-point lead against Connecticut get away then needed a goal line fumble by Pittsburgh in the final minutes to avoid overtime.

"I think we need to learn to finish games," coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "When we've gotten ourselves in the lead, we haven't played particularly well. We have to understand at that point in time, to me, that the game is still 0-0 in terms of the way we play each snap."

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