- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

LOUISVILLE — The Cardinals added a major feather to their BCS cap last night.

In a game that featured about as much defense as a golf match, fifth-ranked Louisville overwhelmed No. 3 West Virginia 44-34 before a record crowd of 43,217 fans at Papa John’s Stadium.

“Offensively, we tried to be as aggressive as we’ve ever been, because we know how dangerous West Virginia is on offense, and we wanted to keep them off the field,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “This was just a great win for our school and our program.”

As the survivor in the battle of top-ranked Big East unbeatens, Louisville (8-0, 3-0 Big East) is likely to leap past Florida into third-place in the next set of BCS Standings, positioning the Cardinals for a potential title-game shot against the Nov. 18 game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan — if they can win out. That won’t be an easy task given remaining road trips to No. 15 Rutgers (Thursday) and dangerous Pittsburgh.

But if junior quarterback Brian Brohm and the Cardinals put on the same type of offensive exhibition they managed last night against the nation’s eighth-ranked scoring defense, nobody would bet against them celebrating New Year’s in the desert.

Louisville accumulated 468 yards of total offense against West Virginia (7-1, 2-1), executing Petrino’s complex scheme to perfection to turn an intermission nailbiter into a second-half laugher.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid that Louisville would be on this type of stage,” said Brohm, the 6-foot-4, 224-pounder from Trinity High School in Louisville. “I feel like if we win out, then we deserve to be in the BCS title game, but we can’t control that. What we can control is going out next week and beating Rutgers.”

After a slow start that saw the Cardinals post just 16 points on five first-half trips inside West Virginia territory, Brohm eviscerated the Mountaineers’ secondary in the second half, finishing 19 of 26 passing for 354 yards, one score and no interceptions as the Cardinals scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives after intermission to sprint to a comfortable 44-27 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Louisville’s defense didn’t fare as well against West Virginia’s fabulous sophomore backfield tandem of Pat White and Steve Slaton. The vaunted West Virginia spread option, which entered the game as the nation’s top rushing offense, torched the Cardinals for 540 yards of total offense.

The Cardinals still delivered the promised blackout, as several banks of stadium lights winked out at the start of the third quarter. But the only force capable of stopping Slaton proved to be the scintillating tailback himself.

The 5-10, 190-pound blur finished the game with 156 yards rushing on just 18 carries, but his fumbles on West Virginia’s first two possessions of the second half completely shifted momentum toward the Cardinals and put West Virginia’s run-heavy offense in an impossibly deep hole.

The second of West Virginia’s fumbles on consecutive third-quarter possessions was scooped up by Louisville linebacker Malik Jackson and returned 15 yards for a touchdown that put the Cardinals up 23-14 with 12:08 remaining in the period.

Slaton then left the game with a strained muscle in his forearm that left him no feeling in his left hand, the one with which he prefers to carry the ball. Without Slaton in the game, West Virginia followed with a desultory three-and-out series and was forced to punt from it’s own 14-yard line. The punt was as ugly as the Slaton-less offense, a low semi-shank that landed in the arms of Louisville’s Trent Guy at the West Virginia 40-yard line long before the Moutaineers’ coverage had arrived. Guy cut left and made quick work of the stunned defense, racing to the end zone to put the Cardinals ahead 30-14 and electrify the black-clad crowd.

White, West Virginia’s similarly electric quarterback, tried to keep the Mountaineers in the mix by himself, leading the team to a pair of late scores to keep things interesting. He finished with 125 yards rushing and 222 passing, accounting for four touchdowns. But West Virginia simply couldn’t stop the Cardinals to help the comeback cause.

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