LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Louisville's best - and very possibly only - shot at ending its six-game losing streak Friday night in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse may be Notre Dame.
Yes, you read it right - Notre Dame. Although the No. 3 Irish will be hosting Florida State 600 miles away in South Bend, Ind., they could well be on the minds of the Syracuse players in what is commonly referred to as a "trap" game when the favored team overlooks an inferior opponent by living in the future.
In other words, maybe the No. 13 Orange (7-2, 4-2 ACC) - a 21-point favorite - will be looking past the struggling Cardinals (2-7, 0-6) in anticipation of their game against the Irish in South Bend the following weekend.
There's no doubt that UofL can use all the help from intangibles it can get considering Syracuse is enjoying its most successful season in years, the Cards are mired in one of their worst and a near-capactiy crowd approaching 33,000 is expected in the Dome, which is a noisy and unique environment under any circumstances.
"We have to handle the noise. It's a loud place," UofL coach Bobby Petrino said.
Most of all, though, the Cards will have to handle Syracuse's fast-paced, explosive offense led by veteran senior quarterback Eric Dungey, who has emerged as an All-ACC candidate, passing for 2,001 yards and rushing for 628 while accounting for 23 touchdowns - 13 through the air and 10 on the ground.
Senior wideout Jamal Custis is third in the ACC with 81.6 yards receiving per game and is averaging 18.4 yards per catch, which doesn't bode well for the Cards' season-long failure to stop big plays
"They've got a great quarterback that's been able to throw the ball and run it," Petrino said. "He has such a quick release; he can get the ball out of his hands really fast. Then the ability, if you try to load up on coverage, drop people, to run and make things happen with his legs. So it's a great challenge."
And one that UofL's defense hardly seems capable of handling.
Syracuse is averaging 43 points per game, eighth nationally, and 478.2 yards, which ranks 15th. The Orange take care of the ball too - they are fifth in the country in turnover margin and haven't lost a turnover in their last two games.
Meanwhile, the Cards' porous defense is near the bottom in nearly every significant category, including points allowed per game (117), total defense (115), rushing yards (127), sacks (128) and third down defense (129, last)
Furthermore, the Cards can ill afford to get into a shootout because their offense hasn't been exactly stellar either. They're 112th in total offense per game at 344.7 yards, 119th in rushing yardage (112.8 ypg) and No. 125 in sacks allowed per game (3.5).
UofL's offensive strategy will be the same as it was against Clemson -control the ball to keep Syracuse's offense off the field as much as possible. Of course, that obviously didn't go well against the Tigers, who romped 77-16.
"I think the thing we have to do is be able to drive the ball mix in the run, the pass, get some big plays," Petrino said. "Some of them are going to have to just be normal offensive plays where you break a tackle, make somebody miss, go the distance. And some are going to have to be some shots down the field.
"Defensively, we've got to be able to keep the ball in front of us and not give up the great big, explosive plays and get to third-and-long so we can get some pressure. We haven't been able to get teams into third-and-long, and that's been killing us. The tempo of Syracuse's offense is really a challenge because they get lined up quickly."
But don't expect a miracle out of the Cards. Petrino continues to insist that they're improving both offensively and defensively, even though it certainly isn't showing up in their performance during games.
"There are no quick fixes," he says. "There's no magic wand you can put out there. There's no one in that locker room that wants to be 2-7, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, we're not a good enough football team right now that we are where we thought we would be."
Petrino has never lost to Syracuse, going 7-0 in his two stints. But then he's never been 2-7 either.
This will be the final stop in what could be Petrino's UofL Farewell Tour if he is fired at the end of the season, which many expect to happen. The Cards will play their final two games at home, against No. 14 N.C. State (6-2) and No. 11 Kentucky (7-2).
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.