LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville players know their current surge toward a postseason bid could be derailed by a setback against a desperate Virginia team.
The Cardinals learned that the hard way last season in Charlottesville against the Cavaliers, who converted a late fumbled punt into the game-winning field goal and a 23-21 upset victory that still resonates.
With Louisville (5-4, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) on the cusp of bowl eligibility, the Cardinals are determined to leave nothing to chance against Virginia (3-6, 2-3) in Saturday’s home finale. And coming off their best win this season against Syracuse, they certainly don’t want a letdown.
“This is a must win,” said Cardinals inside linebacker James Burgess, who had a 31-yard fumble recovery against the Orange. “They got us last year, so this game has definitely been a circle on our calendar. Knowing that they beat us last year and this is the game to be bowl eligible, this is a very big game.”
Louisville’s goal against Virginia is doing the same things that earned last week’s 41-17 win over Syracuse. The Cardinals gained a season-high 579 yards behind 362 yards passing and three touchdowns by sophomore Kyle Bolin, who will make his second straight start.
“It appears that they found the groove into utilizing what the quarterbacks do for their strengths,” Virginia coach Mike London said this week. “They have kind of fused them into the style of offense they play. That seems to be a very positive thing for them.”
Times have been even better for Louisville’s defense since yielding 510 yards at Florida State. They have given up an average of just 210.3 yards in three straight wins.
Louisville remains wary of the Cavaliers, who still can reach the six-win minimum for bowl eligibility. They would love to make it two in a row over the Cardinals in a series that historically has been close with three games decided by five total points.
Virginia’s most recent win is a reminder for Louisville not to give the Cavs an opening.
“We know they’re very dangerous,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said of Virginia. “I think the No. 1 thing we have to do is prepare for what they do, and then we need to continue to improve ourselves.”
Here are other things to watch as Louisville hosts Virginia:
SENIOR FAREWELL: The Cardinals will honor 13 seniors playing their home finales. These upperclassmen have gone 37-11 during their careers, including 23 wins from 2012-13 and a Sugar Bowl upset of Florida.
CLOSE CALLS: Last week’s 27-21 loss to Miami marked Virginia’s sixth game decided by seven points or fewer. The Cavaliers are 3-3 in those contests and London said his team just needs to finish off like it did last year against Louisville. “The biggest thing is that we have to execute,” he said. “We have shown it and demonstrated it. … We need to show that kind of resilience to come out on top.”
DON’T THROW HERE: Sophomore cornerback Trumaine Washington earned ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a career-best 12 tackles, a sack and a game-changing 39-yard interception return for a touchdown against Syracuse. “One of my goals was to get three touchdowns,” said Washington, Louisville’s interceptions leader (four) and No. 6 tackler. “I got one, so I’ve got two more to go.”
END OF THE ROAD: Saturday also marks Virginia’s final road game this season. The Cavaliers will host Duke and in-state rival Virginia Tech, both of which will be challenging. The Blue Devils got thumped 66-31 by Coastal-leading North Carolina and the Hokies rallied to beat Georgia Tech 23-21 on Thursday night.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia, and freelancer Josh Abner in Louisville contributed to this report.
AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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