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Louisville (1-1) @ Utah (2-1)


Louisville_medium  Utah_medium

Date & Time: September 26th, 2009, 5:30 MST 
Radio: Kall 700
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
All-time series: Utah leads 3-0
Last meeting: 2007, Utah 44, Louisville 35
Opponent's blog: Card Chronicle

When these two teams met last, Utah was struggling, They were only two weeks removed from the UNLV debacle and not much was expected out of them the remainder of the season. Yet we knew back then that the Louisville game could act as a turning point for the season and sure enough, it did. 

When the Utes left Papa John's Stadium with the 44-35 victory, they would only lose one more game the remainder of the year. That run set up what we eventually saw in 2008 and I believe much of it traces back to that game.

I say this because it was a road contest against a school that had played in the BCS a year prior. Granted, the Cardinals were nowhere near as good as they were in 2006, but the win provided Utah enough momentum to finish the season strong. Had they lost, it's doubtful that materializes and 2008 maybe never happens. 

Likewise, the 2009 team finds themselves at a potential turning point. They've had three poorly played games and like in 2007, a victory over a BCS team ( this time at home) could be what is needed to straighten this ship and position the Utes for a strong finish. 

Yes, these Cardinals aren't that good. Yes, their coach is on the hot seat. Yes, the Utes have never lost to a Big East school. But it's still a game against the BCS and anytime you play a BCS program in your stadium, it is a big deal. Especially when your team is coming off a very close defeat. A spot both teams find themselves in entering Saturday's game. 

We all know Utah's story, but Louisville's is actually better. It's better because they showed some life. While they did lose to Kentucky, it was a heated contest that went back and forth throughout the second half. Not a moral victory, but a step up from where they were a year ago and it suggests they won't be a cupcake like many felt during the preseason. 

Of course, a tough loss against a rival can also break your spirits and it probably doesn't help they have to travel across the country for this one. How they battle back after that loss could go a long way toward defining their season. So essentially, like in 2007, this game can make or break both team's years. 

That is good. I think it adds a nice touch to a game most Ute fans had chalked up as a victory long before the season began. I like these types of games. It's never fun playing a meaningless game and this certainly isn't going to be a meaningless game by any, well, means. 

Which means Utah is going to have to play better than they did Saturday. I don't know if the Cardinals are better or worse than Oregon, but I do know they won't give the Utes the same amount of chances as the Ducks did. And if they do, Utah will have to capitalize or the effort is going to be similar to what we saw last week. 

Luckily, I think the coaches know this. I think the players know this. I think everyone knows something needs to change from week three to week four or the Utes will find themselves at 2-2. That means better offensive adjustments and a stronger, more physical defense. Utah defense. The type of swarming defense we've been accustomed to over the past two decades. 

What they should expect from the Cardinals is an offense that is still fairly unknown. We only have two games to go by here when looking at Louisville and one of those contests came against arguably the worst FCS team in the nation (Indiana State). So that means we probably should put more weight on their performance against Kentucky. 

As mentioned, it was a close game. The Cardinals battled back from a halftime deficit and actually held a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter before losing 27-31. Their quarterback, Justin Burke, was 15 of 28 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Not too bad of an outing. 

This against a Wildcat defense that held Miami of Ohio's quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh to only 126 yards of passing, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. It was a miserable performance, though the RedHawks are probably one of the worst teams in college football right now. 

Overall, Louisville's offense had 378 total yards, which is actually more than Kentucky. They can move the ball and that means the Utes' defense can't let up, especially in the secondary. If they do, it very well could turn into a disastrous shootout and I'm not sure Terrance Cain is ready for that just yet. 

On the other side of the ball, Louisville's defense is probably just as unknown as their offense. Kentucky scored 31-points and had 346-yards, which isn't entirely good for the Cardinal defense. Yet they were at home and against Miami of Ohio in week one, pushed 500 yards on the day. So Louisville wasn't entirely bad in that regard. 

Unfortunately, right now I don't know what to expect from Louisville. If they play like they did the first half against Kentucky, this game will be a walk for the Utes. If they play like they did in the second half (where they outscored the Wildcats 20-14), it could mean an extremely close game that isn't decided until the fourth quarter. 

If I had to choose, though, I think it falls somewhere in the middle. Utah won't dominate, but I don't expect this game to come down to a final couple of plays like last week. Then again, if the offense is stagnant, it might not matter and maybe it's a romp in favor of the Cardinals. 

But I've got to think Whittingham will have his troops ready and because of that, and the fact it's at home, I can't predict a Louisville victory.

Utah wins if...The offense doesn't struggle nearly as much as they did Saturday against Oregon. Cain looked mortal, Matt Asiata looked injured and the receivers lost. I think this offense has far better potential than what we saw over the weekend and expect to see it on full display this weekend.

Louisville wins if...They stop Utah's offense, create a few turnovers and pick apart what has turned out to be a very questionable defense from the Utes. This is not a lost cause like many Cardinal fans expected before the season and a good effort just might be enough to upset the Utes at home. Especially if they play as poorly as they did in Eugene. 

What will happen...Terrance Cain bounces back, Asiata looks far better running the ball and the Utes' offense moves it down field rather impressively. I don't expect near the same high-scoring contest we got two years ago, but I do think Utah's offense finally puts up a good amount of points on the board. Utes win 42-28

And don't be so quick to discredit my picks. Last week I said Oregon would beat Utah 31-21 and they beat Utah 31-24. 

So very close. 

What are your predictions for the game?