No. 7 Louisville hopes to bounce back against Duke
Idle since its comeback effort against Clemson fell short to start the month, Louisville will play its first home game in nearly a month when the No. 7 Cardinals (4-1, 2-1 ACC) host unranked Duke (3-3, 0-2 ACC) in a nationally televised (ESPN) ACC contest at 7 p.m. ET Friday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
The Cardinals' last home game was Sept. 17 when they blasted Florida State 63-20.
Since then, they have been on the road for games at Marshall (a 59-28 win) and Clemson (a 42-36 loss) and then were off last week.
“It will be good to be back home,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said at his weekly press conference. “It feels like we haven't been home forever. It seems like a long time since we have played here in our stadium so it will feel great to be back here in our home.”
Though Saturday is college football's traditional game day, this will be the second Friday night game of the young season for the Cardinals, who beat Syracuse 62-28 back on Sept. 9.
“I think it's great, the night environment, and the crowd, and the excitement for our players,” Petrino said. “It always gives you a huge advantage to play at home and play under the lights and play with our crowd.
“So we just have to hopefully come out and have the same type of atmosphere that we had for the Florida State game. Then it is up to us to come out and perform and make plays and play the way that we're capable of playing.”
And the Cardinals are capable of playing very well, especially on offense.
With Heisman candidate — some might say leading contender — Lamar Jackson leading the way at quarterback, the Cardinals lead the nation in scoring with their 58.0 points-per-game average and also lead in total offense with an average of 659.2 yards per game.
Jackson has rushed for a team-best 688 yards (137.6 average per game) and passed for another 1,625, or 325 per game. He has rushed for a remarkable 14 touchdowns and passed for another 14 against only four interceptions.
Wide receiver James Quick is his favorite target with 23 receptions for 443 yards and four touchdowns, but another 15 players have at least one catch for the Cardinals.
Despite the loss to Clemson in their last outing, the Cardinals remain very much in the national playoff picture and retain hopes that winning out will get them one of the four coveted spots.
They also remain in contention in the ACC's Atlantic Division race for a spot in the conference championship game but will need to win out and have Clemson lose twice in league play for a shot at that.
Duke, which had a signature win at Notre Dame earlier this season, is coming into the game after a 13-6 win over Army that put the Blue Devils back at .500 for the season. The Blue Devils pitched a shutout in the second half as the two teams fought in torrential rain conditions brought on by Hurricane Matthew.
The Blue Devils passed for only 44 yards, with quarterback Daniel Jones completing 7 of his 15 pass attempts.
Of major concern for coach David Cutcliff's crew is the health of his team.
Running back Jela Duncan left the Army game with a leg injury, and center Austin Davis also departed with a leg injury. It appears both players might miss the game at Louisville.
“Hopefully, we heal quickly,” Cutcliffe said. “We all know we have a big task in front of us.”
Davis left in the second quarter against Army. Duncan departed in the third. Duncan is Duke's leading rusher and has scored four touchdowns this season. He carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards against Army. The injury came after he missed the previous game against Virginia with a leg injury.
“I don't think either one of them are surgical circumstances,” Cutcliffe said. “That doesn't mean they're immediately back. And with a short week, you kind of just have to wait and see.”
At least the Blue Devils have Shaun Wilson, a speedster with experience, to help fill in at tailback, but it's more complicated with Davis out of the mix. He has started every game.
To adjust against Army, which recorded five sacks against the Blue Devils, left guard Zach Harmon, a redshirt sophomore, moved to center and freshman Julian Santos took over at guard.
“When a guy like Zach Harmon bumps over there at center and we don't have a single bad snap in that weather, pat him on the back,” Cutcliffe said. “That's a big-time effort on his part.”