Playing its third straight home game to open the season, 19th-ranked Louisville (2-0) hosts North Carolina (1-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., ET at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The game will be televised by ABC as a regional telecast, while ESPN2 will carry the game in the locations where it isn’t available on ABC. Saturday’s game will mark the second straight season and the fourth time in the last nine years U of L and UNC have met on the gridiron. Last year, the Cardinals dropped a 14-7 decision in Chapel Hill, while overall, the series is tied at 3-3 dating back to the first ever matchup in 1988.
“We’re excited about the challenge this weekend,” said Louisville head coach Charlie Strong during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon. “Last week (against Missouri State), we weren’t consistent, so we must work on that this week. We must work on our tempo defensively to be sure we get lined up and don’t give up the big play. It’s an ACC opponent coming in here that has some tradition with them. It’s a big football team and they’re going to look good. It has to be a physical game for us.”
The Tar Heels, coming off a 28-27 loss at Wake Forest, are led by first year head coach Larry Fedora, who took over the UNC program following four successful seasons as the head coach at Southern Mississippi. Strong has some familiarity with Fedora having coached with him at Florida from 2003-04 and more recently against him when the Cardinals and Golden Eagles met in the 2010 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. However, that familiarity, especially the bowl matchup two seasons ago, may not provide any advantage for Louisville this week.
“It’s two different programs. At Southern Miss, he had been there four years, so his offense was in place,” said Strong. “At North Carolina, this is his first year and the players that are in the program weren’t recruited for that type of offense. It’s a learning process for him, so we’re just watching tapes to make sure we get our guys lined up.”
Offensively, the Tar Heels have shown the same type of style and approach as Fedora’s previous teams at Southern Miss. With an up-tempo, no-huddle attack, the Tar Heels have averaged more than 44 points per outing in their first two games and have averaged more than 475 yards of total offense through two weeks.
“They are the result of who Larry Fedora is. They’re a zone-read team on offense with an up-tempo style,” Strong said. “Last year, they were more of a two-back power team that just tried to knock you off the ball because they had the big linemen who would come off and attack you. Now, with the zone-read, a lot of it is sideways and trying more to get up on blocks, get to the second level and let the back find the hole.”
Louisville enters the week three matchup looking for more production offensively, especially from the running game. After producing a pair of 100-yard rushers in the season-opening win against Kentucky, the Cardinals ran for 131 yards against Missouri State and were never able to produce the same kinds of big plays from a week earlier.
“After looking at the tape, we did not do a good job of getting up on blocks, and sustaining blocks, and moving those guys out,” said Strong. “We had some runs where a guy would slip off a block or two guys missed a block completely. We felt we could run the ball better on Saturday even though we ended up with over 100 yards rushing. That being said, the throw was there because they loaded up the box and we were able to take advantage of that.”
The Cardinals enter this week’s showdown with UNC with positive momentum after two wins and a rise to the top 20 in both major national polls. Having moved to 19th in the latest AP Top 25 and to 20th in the USA Today coaches’ poll, the Cardinals are ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation for the first time since September 2007.
“I tell our team that it’s our peers that think we’re a top 20 team,” said Strong. “I don’t know how good we are, but I’d say they deserve it because of how hard they’ve worked. However, we still have a lot of football play because it’s only two games into the season. I tell them all the time that it’s not where we start, but how we finish. Each week, we’re trying to get better. You want to make sure that when you come into a game like this one that guys understand the level of competition and just how big the game is. I told them ‘you’re the 19th ranked team in the country. That’s what your peers think of you, so let’s start carrying ourselves like it and start acting like it.'”
North Carolina (1-1) at Louisville (2-0)
When: Sept. 15, 2012 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000)
Television: ABC/ESPN2 – Bob Wischusen (p-x-p), Danny Kannell (analyst) and Maria Taylor (sidelines) will broadcast the game live.
Radio: 840 WHAS Radio – The Louisville Sports Network with Paul Rogers (p-x-p), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline)
Series Record: Series tied at 3-3
In Louisville: Series tied at 1-1
Last Meeting: UNC 14, Louisville 7 – 2011 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 19th in this week’s Associated Press Poll and 20th in the latest USA Today Coaches’ Poll; North Carolina is unranked.