LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Eastern Kentucky will take a short road trip to face a steep challenge Saturday at No. 8 Louisville.
The Colonels travel 104 miles west to square off against the Cardinals, who believe they can play even than their season-opening 42-point rout of Ohio. Oddsmakers had listed Louisville as a 41-point favorite earlier in the week before removing the line.
Still, EKU feels anything is possible.
After all, eight FCS schools beat FBS programs last weekend and the Colonels upset the Cardinals 45-21 in 1985. The win was EKU's fourth and most recent win over a top-tier school in 22 meetings, but it nearly beat Kansas State in 2011 and Indiana in '09 and has played Louisville close the past two meetings — including a 23-13 loss in 2010.
Colonels coach Dean Hood believes that if his players execute the important strategy of keeping the Cardinals and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from busting loose, they've got a chance.
"Our plan always remains the same," Hood said this week. "We have to stop the run and change up our looks on defense to compete. I have a lot of respect for (Cardinals) coach (Charlie) Strong and what they do and am very appreciative of getting a chance to play Louisville."
As Louisville looks to follow up its lopsided season-opening win, EKU is also riding momentum after dominating Robert Morris 38-6 in its opener on Aug. 29.
The Colonels used a balanced attack highlighted by 207 yards rushing to outgain the Colonials 401-232. Junior quarterback Jared McClain symbolized EKU's diversity by scoring two touchdowns each passing and rushing while accounting for 232 yards of total offense in his starting debut.
EKU's wants to keep Louisville's Bridgewater from having another big game. In the opener, he opened his Heisman campaign by hitting eight receivers for 355 yards and tying a career best with five touchdowns. The Cardinals rolled up 615 yards and the Miami native earned American Athletic Conference offensive player of the week honors.
It's a tall task for the Colonels but having shown an ability to hang with the big schools, the next step is closing the deal like their FCS brethren did last week.
"We know what it's like to be close to (pulling an upset)," senior offensive lineman Justin Meredith said of the chances of upsetting an FBS team. "Now seeing these other schools doing it, we feel like we can do it, too."
Here are five things to watch Saturday when Louisville hosts Eastern Kentucky:
TURNOVERS: At least, takeaways are what Louisville's defense would like to have more of against EKU. The Cardinals managed only Hakeem Smith's interception as two other possible pickoffs were dropped and they failed to come up with a fumble. A unit that aims to create more big plays and chances for its potent offense will definitely be seeking more turnovers against the Colonels.
EKU CONTRIBUTORS: Five EKU players had at least five carries last week against Robert Morris, with seven running the ball overall. In the passing game, seven receivers had at least two catches. The Colonels hope to continue spreading the wealth against the Cardinals. Jared Sanders led the Colonels with 53 yards rushing on eight carries, and McClain got the most touches (12) for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
TEDDY'S OPTIONS: Bridgewater's crop of receivers grew with the emergence of Kai De La Cruz and Florida transfer Robert Clark. De La Cruz, a junior whom coaches said could have a big season, backed up their belief with a career- and team-high 114 yards and two touchdowns. Clark debuted with four catches for 43 yards including a 25-yard score, bolstering a crew already featuring Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker.
QUARTERBACK PRESSURE: The Colonels got off to a great start as defensive back Paul Ritter, lineman Avery Pitt and redshirt freshman safety Jason Fergerson each had sacks while safety Christian Albertson and end Shawn Shupperd shared another. Louisville managed just one by Roy Philon, another area where the Cards seek improvement.
LOUISVILLE MISTAKES: Almost lost in Louisville's pummeling of Ohio were 11 penalties for 90 yards, including four false starts over the Cardinals' first three drives and five overall. A pass interference call led to the Bobcats' only score and spoiled the shutout for Louisville, which aims to be more in sync and play under control.