Saturday's game against the North Carolina Tar Heels is the game that most Cardinal fans were looking at as a possible matchup of two teams in the Top 25. Rewind to this past Saturday and the Cardinals can thank the team Louisville beat in the Orange Bowl, Wake Forest, for helping eliminate any chance of that happening.
By abandoning a successful running game and the defense imploding, the Tar Heels allowed Wake Forest to come back and score the winning touchdown with 2:09 remaining on the clock. Going into the game, the Heels were third in the Others Receiving Votes category in the AP Poll and were received 48 votes. In the new poll this week they are the 17th team listed outside the poll and received only one vote.
Fans should be aware though there will be a team full of talented players hungry for an upset win in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Saturday at 3:30.
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In the last two meetings, UNC beat the Cards 14-7 last season in Chapel Hill and the Cards crushed the Heels 69-14 in 2005 in Louisville. This weekend's game should fall somewhere in between those two meetings score wise.
While North Carolina is now implementing the no huddle spread attack similar to the ones Louisville has seen in their first two games, this team has more capable and highly touted players running the plays. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked almost flawless in the first two games this year, and he will most likely need to make it three in a row for the Cardinals to remain undefeated and keep climbing in the polls. With that said, here are three keys to victory against North Carolina:
STOP THE RUN
A win has to start with the Louisville defense and stopping the run. North Carolina has been very successful running the ball and has three dangerous backs in Giovani Bernard, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris. Cardinal fans saw the fireplug Bernard last year and know what he's capable of as he went on to rush for 1,253 yards with 13 touchdowns and caught 45 balls and another score. Bernard was a First-Team All-American and ACC Rookie of the Year. Bernard's status is questionable this week and he did not play against Wake Forest after torching Elon in Week 1 for three touchdowns with a 59 yard run, a 70 yard punt return and a six-yard receiving score.
Picking up the slack in Week 2 was Blue with 106 yards and 5.6 yards per carry and Morris with 70 yards and a 5.0 yard per carry average. Blue is a 6-foot-2 230 pound junior with deceptive speed. He will be a tough matchup for the defense. Morris is a smaller but very shifty and quick back with surprising power. All three guys were heavily recruited and for good reason. If the Cards can step up and keep the Heels, who average 200 yards rushing per game, to less than 100 yards then they should be in good position to win.
NO MORE PENALTIES
Second the Cardinals must cut down - if not eliminate -penalties. Through the first two games the Cardinals have been whistled 15 times for 129 yards. To continue the winning ways they must play smart and clean. While the Louisville offense has racked up huge numbers so far, Charlie Strong and the rest of the staff are not overly impressed due to the miscues.
After the win over Missouri State, Strong said, "I am very pleased with the victory, but what's frustrating is that we played hard but did not play smart." "If you look at last week, our offense ran pretty well and then this week we sputtered in the first half. ... Defensively, we were able to make some plays."
Having penalties like they did against an FCS school like Missouri State is easier to overcome and still be successful than it will be against a team loaded with high caliber recruits at nearly every position. No disrespect to the Tigers but they should have been a lot closer than the score showed.
Finally, and this is more like a two-part key, the Cards must win the turnover battle and protect Bridgewater. Louisville currently has four takeaways and only one turnover for a +3 ratio while North Carolina has five takeaways but also four turnovers for a +1 ratio. The Cardinal defense will have to be as focused as ever to cause turnovers and must communicate effectively due to the fast paced and up tempo offense the Tar Heels run.
Before last week's interception by Sophomore safety Calvin Pryor, the Cards only had 3 fumbles recoveries to their credit. Senior cornerback, Adrian Bushell nearly had an interception against Missouri State after he made a great break on a pass and laid out along the sideline.
Pryor and fellow safety Hakeem Smith are known for making big plays and will be counted upon greatly against Renner and the offense of North Carolina. Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford has been pleased with his defense's hard play.
"When we play man-to-man coverage, he is always around the box," said Bedford of Smith. "That's why he has been all-conference the past two years. "He is around the box and making plays in the run game. Calvin Pryor is becoming a good player, which allows Hakeem to do more things."
One difference this season that the defense didn't really have last season is experienced depth.
"It's great when you have depth," said Bedford. "That's the thing, we are able to get guys in the fourth quarter and keep them fresh."
Anyone that has watched the Cardinals this year can easily see that Bridgewater is a special talent and has laser like pin point accuracy. The Miami native has completed 49 out of 60 passes for 576 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Of those 11 incompletions, 6 were drops against Missouri State including a would be touchdown by tight end Nate Nord. Nord did however make up for the drop and had an impressive diving touchdown later in the game. Bridgewater has shown that he can make all of the throws no matter if he's being flushed out of the pocket or it's a designed roll out.
One thing that really sticks out is the fact that the talented gunslinger is spreading the ball all over the field, completing passes to 11 different receivers. Out of those 11, six have at least five receptions and four have at least seven receptions. Common sense says that if the offensive line can protect Teddy and give him time to assess the defense, the Cardinals should be in position to win the game.