The Orange got lucky when Cincinnati was without Zach Collaros last week, throwing off their entire offensive gameplan. So who know what's going to happen this weekend when the Cardinals take the field without star RB Bilal Powell and starting QB Adam "Abe" Froman.
The Cardinals will either go with Justin Blake or Will Stein at QB while former golden boy Vic Anderson will likely get the nod at RB. Coach Charlie Strong will not name official starters until gameday.
The Orange have their own injury concerns as well. Right tackle Michael Hay is indeed out for the game. Complicating matters is the fact that one of the players set to step into his place, Ian Allport, is now listed as questionable with a lower body injury suffered while practicing with the first team this week. Redshirt freshman Andrew Phillips is next in line for the spot.
Injuries aside, this game is about whole new worlds for both teams. The Cardinals are 4-4 and fighting for a bowl bid to go with their new-found respectability. The Orange are doing the same but are already 6-2. It's a far cry from last year's awful Basement Bowl.
The key for the Cardinals so far this year? Their veteran experience:
The Cards lack SU’s overall talent and experience on defense but have used a veteran offensive line, a gifted backfield and an efficient quarterback to stick around in every game they have played this season. Marrone has noticed and expressed his concerns.
"We’re playing a team in Louisville that I don’t feel very good about how we match up against them," he said. "They’re a good team with more starting experience than any team we’ve played until this point, overall, offense and defensively. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
Even without Powell, the Orange will have to key on stopping the run. Anderson is a capable back and the Cardinal offensive line is solid.
This SU defense is ready to take the lessons it's learned in previous weeks, especially the Pitt loss, and keep applying it to games like this one:
"It's all about us maturing each week," SU strong safety Shamarko Thomas said. "The Pitt game just made us a tougher defense. It brought us together and taught us that we need to communicate better and know our roles out there. And we've been doing that each week ever since.
"We had some miscues against Pitt. But it ultimately helped us become an even better defense. That game helped us mature."
On the offensive side of the ball, the Orange will continue working on establishing the run and maintaining it all game long. That doesn't mean the passing game goes away. While its not the massively-improved aspect we thought it was at the beginning of the year, the passing game continues to look for balance:
"The little things," second-year head coach Doug Marrone said. "It’s always one thing but not one person. It’s missing a block up front, a receiver coming up short on a route, failing to pick up a blitz, not hitting the first receiver in the progression. We do it right in practice. We need to be more accountable when the game’s on the line."
"You keep working for that balance," he said. "Now, not all the game plans are balanced, but the only one that was heavy run was West Virginia. Other than that the game plans were designed to produce balance. We have had some things set up to take advantage of our ability to set up the pass with the run and haven’t done it."
They'll have to be able to take pressure off the run game if they want to crack Louisville's much-improved defense.
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