Steve Kragthorpe and the Louisville Cardinals (2-2, 0-1) desperately need some positive momentum and a win today against NC State in Raleigh would be a good first step.
Things haven’t been good for the Cardinals recently. Louisville enters this afternoon’s game against the Wolfpack – kick-off is at 3:30 on ESPNU – having lost their last two games against Kentucky and Syracuse, dropping out of the Top 25 for the first time since October 2005.
Last week, Kragthorpe’s Cards were embarrassed at home against a Syracuse team that entered the game as 37-point underdogs and hadn’t won a Big East road game in three years. Louisville fans voiced their displeasure throughout that contest, and several thousand bolted for the exit early in the fourth quarter when the Orange took a 38-21 lead.
This week, Kragthorpe and the team have taken considerable heat from fans on talk radio and the message boards. Thursday, the program took another hit when the school announced the dismissal of linebacker Willie Williams, who was arrested and charged with a felony Wednesday night.
“We’ve got to get back on track and find a way to win football games,” Kragthorpe said. “I knew that when I came here –that it’s all about winning football games. And that’s what we want to get done.”
“Right now, we’re just trying to stay positive and we’re looking forward to NC State,” junior defensive end Maurice Mitchell said. “We try not to listen to the outside negativity and try to stay positive.”
Mitchell said the Cardinals are certainly feeling the pressure these days.
“There is pressure, but everything should take care of itself if we come out and play with energy, focus, execute and communicate,” Mitchell said. “It’s been tough because we’re used to playing good football around here and losing is not something that we’re used to. We’re trying as best we can to get things corrected quickly so we can get back on (track).”
Steve Kragthorpe and the Cardinals badly
need a win against N.C. State.
Kragthorpe hopes that a good week of practice will help his team get back on the winning track against the 1-3 Wolfpack.
“The biggest thing is we’ve gotten back to basics and fundamentals and tried to show our players good technique,” Kragthorpe said. “We’ve shown some improvement in some areas that we needed to improve and I think our tempo has been good, our leaders have stepped up and we’ve have a good week of practice.”
In NC State, Louisville finds an opponent that is allowing nearly as many points as are the Cardinals. The Wolfpack rank 78th nationally in scoring defense, giving up 30 points per game on the season. The weak link for NC State is a rush defense that ranks 115th nationally, allowing opponents to rush for 247 yards per contest.
As bad as the Pack have been against the run, Mike Archer’s defense has defended the pass extremely well. How good are the Wolfpack against the pass? They held Boston College’s Matt Ryan, who ranks fifth nationally in passing with 400 yards per game, to just 142 yards passing.
“They mix coverages, man and zone, and they’re playing some press man on the outside and they’re very good at that,” Kragthorpe said. “And they’re doing a good job getting pretty good pressure on the passer.”
“They’ve got a great defense and they’ve held some people to some pretty low scores,” junior center Eric Wood said. “They’ve got a great defensive front so up front we have our work cut out for us.”
If Louisville hopes to get back on track, Mike Cassity’s defense will have to step up and eliminate the big plays that have plagued them all season. The Cardinals are allowing 32 points per game and allowed Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson to have a field day through the air last week. Robinson threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think we have to get back to having fun out there,” Brandon Cox said. “We have to play with the emotion and excitement that we used to show. I don’t think we have that right now and I’m not really sure why that is. We have to show that (old) Louisville pride and go out and play defense.”
“It’s very critical that we go out and perform this week,” Cox added. "We just have to go out and attack harder. The defensive line has to rush harder, the linebackers have to blitz and we have to do what the coaches tell us to do.”
Here is some good news for the Cards: Running back Brock Bolen is expected to play for the first time in three weeks and wide receiver Harry Douglas, who has back-to-back 200 yard games, is expected to play after being carted off the field last week against Syracuse.
“We’re hopeful that Brock will be back and he looks like he’s getting close to full speed and he should be able to play,” Kragthorpe said. “He should be back ready for us to go and I’m confident Harry (Douglas) will be out there too.”
Hoping to shake things up, his team included, Kragthorpe threw open several starting positions this week in practice. Most notably, junior wide receiver Mario Urrutia’s starting job was up for grabs after he picked up two costly personal foul penalties last Saturday against the Orange.
“He’s got to be consistent and then he’s got to keep his emotions in check,” Kragthorpe said. “When he gets frustrated, he can’t let his emotions show outwardly. He’s got to take that frustration and channel it into positive energy to make him a more complete player.”
“We’ve got some positions open on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side of the ball and special teams,” Kragthorpe added. “Those guys know that, they’ve been challenged and the best guys are going to play. We’re going to put the guys on the field that are consistent in practice and also show that consistency in the game.”
DATE/TIME: September 29/3:30; TV: ESPNU; RADIO: 84 WHAS; SERIES Louisville 2-0