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November 1, 2005

Cards ready for resurgent Pitt

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Louisville has had a surprisingly rough time in the watered-down Big East.

The 24th-ranked Cardinals hope to get back into contention in the Big East race when they face resurgent Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

Louisville (5-2, 1-2) was expected by most to win the Big East this season, due partly because the conference has been diluted by the defections over the last two seasons of Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College - all ranked in the top 20 this season - to the ACC.

The Cardinals dropped their Big East opener with a shocking 45-14 loss at fellow conference newcomer South Florida on Sept. 24, and fell to 0-2 in the league with a 46-44 triple-overtime loss at West Virginia three weeks later.

Louisville notched its first Big East win at Cincinnati, 46-22 on Oct. 22, and should be looking forward to playing a Big East game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for the first time. The Cardinals have won 10 straight at home, where they are averaging 64 points in three wins this season.

The Cardinals, back in the AP top 25 after spending one week out of the rankings, trail No. 18 West Virginia by two games in the Big East race.

"This is a big game for us, no question about it," Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said. "This is our chance to get back in the national spotlight."

Petrino is happy to have running back Kolby Smith back and healthy after the junior missed the last two games with a knee injury. Smith averaged 6.3 yards per carry in four games before the injury.

Without Smith, Louisville was forced to use tailback Michael Bush, second in the nation in touchdowns with 18, heavily in his absence.

"I just felt like, in some situations, I could've been the back to help Mike out because he had so many carries," Smith said.

Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm was outstanding in the win over Cincinnati, earning Big East co-player of the week honors by completing 21-of-26 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. Brohm leads the nation in passing efficiency (169.8).

"Right now, he doesn't force many things," Pittsburgh first-year coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He does not force many plays. He'll take what you give him and make the throw. He's an accurate thrower."

Pittsburgh (4-4, 3-1) was also expected to contend after winning the Big East in 2004 and entering this season ranked 23rd under Wannstedt. The Panthers, however, dropped three straight to start the season and have yet to win in three road games.

After struggling offensively at the start of the season, Tyler Palko and the Panthers' offense has adjusted to Wannstedt's system during their three-game winning streak. Palko has thrown for six touchdowns over that span and Pittsburgh has topped 30 points on each occasion.

"Palko's a good player, I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him," Petrino said. "He didn't play well early, but now it seems like they're all getting more comfortable with the new scheme and the new offense."

Wannstedt is well aware of Louisville's gaudy offensive numbers at home.

"They explode," he said. "Sixty-four points per game at home, I think, is what they're averaging. (Offensive coordinator) Matt Cavanaugh's got his work cut out for him figuring out how to score 65."

Louisville has won the last four matchups with Pittsburgh, although the teams have not met since 1994.

For more coverage of the Louisville Cardinals, check out CardinalSports.com.



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