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November 2, 2006
Game of the Week: West Virginia at Louisville
"I have plenty of confidence in our offense, and I really like our defense (they have won our last 2 games for us). But I'm curious to see what we will do to their running game. They have yet to be slown down since White and Slaton became starters. If we hold them to under 250 yards of rushing, we'll win the game."
-- kycrash06 on the The Crunch Zone message board on CardinalSports.com.
Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm understands why the general public expects one of the most anticipated games in Big East history to turn into a shootout.
But he doesn't necessarily agree with that assessment.
"You've got two offenses that can put up some points, but you also have two defenses that have played well this year and haven't given up a lot of points,'' Brohm said. "It could be a shootout. It could be a low-scoring game. You never know with these types of games, with two good teams playing each other."
There's plenty of reason to believe No. 3 West Virginia (7-0, 2-0 Big East) and No. 5 Louisville (7-0, 2-0) could light up the scoreboard tonight at Papa John's Stadium.
West Virginia leads the nation with 319 rushing yards per game. Louisville is ranked second in the nation in total offense with 496.1 yards per game.
Then again, that final score was a bit misleading because so many of those points came in the three overtime sessions. Louisville and West Virginia were tied 24-24 at the end of regulation time.
"It was more of a ball-control, lower-scoring game than anticipated," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez would love to see tonight's game turn out the same way.
Although the Mountaineers rank second in the nation with 40.9 points per game, Rodriguez believes his team would suffer if this game develops into a shootout.
"If it's a high-scoring game, it's certainly not going to bode well for us," Rodriguez said. "They're built more toward throwing the football with Brohm and their skill guys at wide receiver than we are at this point. If we're giving up a lot of points and letting them go up and down the field, it's going to be tough, particularly in that environment. We have to try to make some stops defensively and keep their offense off the field."
West Virginia's dependence on its running attack could hurt the Mountaineers if they fall too far behind. White has thrown for 200 yards just once in his career.
Then again, the Mountaineers proved last year they could come from behind. West Virginia rallied to beat Louisville after trailing 24-7 in the fourth quarter.
White came off the bench to lead that comeback, while Slaton scored six touchdowns in his first career start. That dynamic duo has combined to run for 1,678 yards and 18 touchdowns this year.
"We know what they're capable of now, that's for sure," Louisville defensive tackle Earl Heyman said. "Last year we were like, 'Oh, they're just freshmen.' Now everybody knows what they're capable of, not just us, but everyone in the country."
In a game that features plenty of star power on offense, Heyman and the rest of the relatively anonymous defensive players should get a chance to make a name for themselves.
Both teams are allowing less than 13 points per game and have given up more than 17 points just once all season.
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"They give up stuff underneath, but they don't give up big plays," Brohm said. "I've only seen a few instances where people get behind them and get deep on them. They try to keep things in front of them. They bend but don't break and make you earn what you get."
Louisville's high-powered offense has overshadowed the fact that the Cardinals also lead the nation in sacks. The Cardinals defeated Kentucky 59-28 in their season opener and haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game since.
Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has looked particularly impressive with 10 sacks and five tackles for loss. Nate Harris is a playmaking linebacker who has recorded six tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"They're more of a blitz team than probably anybody we've played," Rodriguez said. "They did some against us last year. Lots of teams are blitz teams, but against us, they don't blitz. Louisville kept to its personality last year against us pretty good. I expect to see a lot of pressure, a lot of movement."
Louisville's defense also wants to redeem itself after letting a big lead slip away in last year's West Virginia game.
The Cardinals responded to that loss by spending the entire offseason stressing the importance of closing out games.
"We focused on finishing," Louisville center Eric Wood said. "That was our big thing: Finish, finish, finish. That's the only thing we heard from coaches."
That's the choice facing each team tonight in a game that will knock the loser out of national title contention.
Finish or be finished.