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Syracuse vs. Louisville Football Preview: Q&A With Card Chronicle

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Hey, you remember these guys, right?

Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE

There's a pretty important football game tomorrow night between your Syracuse Orange and the Louisville Cardinals, as I'm sure you know. We've been talking about it plenty all week here amongst ourselves, but we figured why not rope in our opponents? You probably remember these guys...

Below, Mike Rutherford -- a must-follow for all things Louisville-related -- from SB Nation's Card Chronicle stops by to chat with us about all things Cardinals football. On top of his responses here, you can also check out ours over there to tell Louisville fans everything they have to know about Syracuse.

First off, welcome to the ACC! How's it feel? And how rewarding is it to watch UConn get bludgeoned to death in what's essentially Conference USA?

I'd say it feels kind of like the first time I spent the night at a friend's house with Showtime and we watched "Red Shoe Diaries." I'm still not 100 percent sure what's going me on or why it's making me feel like this, but I know that I like it. I like it a lot.

I actually almost feel bad for UConn and Cincinnati, only because of the terrifying period where it looked like we were going to wind up exactly where they are now. Football is one thing, but I will legitimately feel bad for them once basketball season rolls around, because those programs deserve better than what they're going to get in the AAC.

But yeah, UConn sucks ... and stuff.

Syracuse and Louisville started to develop something back in the Big East days, but it always fell short of "rivalry." Could it ever get there?

I think it could, just because the two have played some memorable football games and are always going to be among the conference elite in basketball. A lot of times if a rivalry is strong enough in one of the two major sports then you see it spill over to all the other sports. I think that could definitely be the case with the Cards and Orange, especially if both football programs can start to hit their stride (or keep their stride in U of L's case) over the next few seasons.

The only reason Louisville fans disliked Syracuse football in the Big East, I think, is because whenever they beat Louisville it came in a particularly soul-crushing fashion. The losses to SU were kind of like, ironically enough, oranges in The Godfather movies; they always signaled impending doom.

The 38-35 game in 2007 was, at the time, the largest point spread upset in the history of college football, and it was the first real sign that things were definitely not going to be okay under Steve Kragthorpe. The next season, Louisville was actually 5-2 and coming off of an upset over No. 14 South Florida when they went to the Carrier Dome. The Orange again pulled off a double-digit point spread update, and the Cards wound up losing their last five games of the season. Then, of course, there was 2012 where Syracuse ruined Louisville's perfect season and began a two-game losing streak that almost cost U of L its trip to the Sugar Bowl.

So, yeah, there are some feelings of ill-will from the Louisville side when it comes to this series.

Has the awkwardness of Bobby Petrino's return faded yet, or is it still incredibly weird for Cards fans?

I think it depends on who you talk to. For some fans, it was never awkward, just more like a return to normalcy and the way things were supposed to be before Petrino left the first time. For others, they were upset the moment he was named a candidate and are still trying to bite their tongues. And then for others, it's all been sort of like the hiring of any new coach.

The one thing that has been weird is watching a Petrino-coached Louisville team where the defense is carrying the offense. That definitely never happened the first time around, and wasn't something anyone was anticipating heading into the season.

Louisville's offense has been "off" for a few weeks, it seems. What's most to blame for that?

I'd say it's a little bit of a lot of things, but offensive line and quarterback play have to be at the top of the list. The front five has been pretty atrocious really from the opening snap of the Miami game up until now. They've shaken things up multiple times and still haven't been able to come up with a group that appears capable of protecting U of L's specialty players without being penalized.

The more highly-publicized area is quarterback. Will Gardner looked fantastic during the spring, which left some fans believing that Louisville would barely miss a beat without Teddy Bridgewater. That wasn't exactly fair. Gardner played well against Miami, but was really bad in the loss to Virginia and just okay before leaving the FIU game with a knee injury. After suffering that injury, he was replaced last week by true freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who himself missed the FIU game because he was attending the funeral for his father. Bonnafon is more athletic than Gardner and might have a stronger arm, but he made some freshman mistakes in his first start (U of L fumbled three times) and did nothing to put the QB controversy to bed like the fan base hoped he would. He'll be the guy you all will see on Friday, although Petrino hasn't ruled out the possibility of Gardner playing too if he's healthy enough.

Going into this season, would you have thought the Cardinals' defense would be its most outward strength?

No. Todd Grantham was a controversial hire both because of the amount of money that Louisville gave him and because there was a sense that every place he'd left recently had been happy to see him go. He was also bringing with him a new 3-4 scheme, and inheriting a defense that had just lost two players who were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and another who was taken in round three.

The biggest issue for Louisville was at safety, where they were replacing two guys who had pretty much played every snap of the last three seasons. Someone needed to step up, and Washington transfer James Sample and former four-star recruit Gerold Holliman have certainly done that. The latter of that duo enters Friday night leading the country in interceptions with six. The rest of the unit has exceeded everyone's expectations, but I think we all still know that the defense's biggest tests of the season still lie in front of it.

Any chance Louisville's players are looking past this matchup with Syracuse to get ready for Clemson the following week?

I don't think so. The players know they haven't played up to expectations the last three weeks, and they know that people are now openly questioning whether or not they can compete with the top of the ACC. Senior wide receiver Eli Rogers also admitted earlier this week that he had been reminding his teammates early and often about what happened the last time Louisville went to the Carrier Dome. That all being the case, it's hard to see this team not being ready for Friday.

What does Louisville absolutely need to do in order to defeat the Orange come Friday night?

Cut out the mistakes. The offense has been far from great, but it's been good enough for this team to be 5-0 right now. The things that have killed Louisville the last three weeks haven't been ineptitude, they've been penalties, turnovers and special teams mistakes. It seems like every other Cardinal drive this season has been killed by an unnecessary penalty at a terrible time, a muffed punt likely cost U of L a win at Virginia, kicker John Wallace missed two field goals last week, and both Bonnafon and Gardner have put the ball on the ground an absurd number of times. That stuff needs to be cleaned up in order to pick up a road win.

Syracuse can pull an upset over the Cardinals if they _______.

Take advantage of Louisville's mistakes (recent history says there should be a few), get more pressure on Reggie Bonnafon than they did on Everett Golson (should be possible with U of L's O-Line struggles), and take advantage of the Cardinals' aggressiveness on defense and hit a big play or two.

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Thanks again for taking the time out for these, Mike! And again, everyone: Be sure to follow him on Twitter and head over to Card Chronicle for all of your pre-game Louisville info.