Thursday, November 15, 2001

Louisville seeking first 10-win season

AP Sports Writer

        GREENVILLE, N.C. — Dave Ragone's gamble on Louisville has paid off. The junior turned down Pittsburgh and Purdue to come to a program in 1998 that had posted a 1-10 record and knowing he would likely have to play behind record-setting quarterback Chris Redman.

        But after throwing for 2,621 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, Ragone has No. 19 Louisville (9-1) on the verge of its second straight Conference USA championship.

        The Cardinals can post their first 10-win regular season in school history with a win at East Carolina (6-3) and all but lock up their second straight bid to the Liberty Bowl.

        Both clubs are 5-0 in the league heading into Thursday night's showdown. Louisville will finish its regular season at Texas Christian, while the Pirates host Southern Mississippi next Friday.

        If there is a tie for the conference title, the bowl would pick which team heads to Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 31.

        “We're getting up there in the rankings now, so maybe some people who weren't watching us before are going to watch us now,” said Ragone, who has thrown for 2,405 yards and 17 TDs through 10 games. “It's time to showcase what we can do. This will define our season.”

        The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Ragone is eager to get back at East Carolina since he was knocked out of that game a season ago with a shoulder injury. With Ragone stuck on the sideline, the Pirates won 28-25 at Louisville.

        “It still stings a little bit. I've had this game marked on a my calendar,” Ragone said. “You try to find every little thing to motivate yourself, but we're a different team and they're a different team. But there's still a bitter taste in our mouths.”

        The left-handed QB will be going up against an East Carolina defense that has had its share of problems and is ranked seventh in the league. giving up 412 yards a game.

        “These guys, they love to pass the ball,” said East Carolina defensive end Bernard Williams. “What we need to do is just keep containing this guy and put some pressure on him, and maybe our secondary and our linebackers can make a big play back there.”

        While Ragone has been playing at an all-conference pace, it is Louisville's defense that has the team on the verge of another title. Since a 34-10 loss to No. 12 Illinois, the Cardinals have allowed just 57 points during their six-game winning streak.

        Louisville is seventh in the nation in scoring defense at 14.2 points a game and is sixth in the country with 27 takeaways.

        That defense will have to contend with the running of Leonard Henry and the passing of David Garrard after beating up on the conference's two worst teams — Tulane and Houston — the last two weeks.

        Henry has rushed for 1,273 yards and has seven 100-yard games, while Garrard has thrown for 1,764 and 12 TDs.

        “You've got to be able to stop both those guys,” coach John L. Smith said. “They're going to come out and run the ball, but at the same point, that doesn't seem to be their philosophy. It's not like they're going to say, "Let's hang on to the ball and just take it on a 10- or 12-play march down the field.' They're going to throw it deep. We've got to make sure we don't give up the big play.”

        A win by East Carolina, riding a four-game winning streak, would give the program at least a share of its first Conference USA title.

        “My take on this whole deal is there's another game to play next week that is absolutely huge against a team (Southern Mississippi) that is just as good as Louisville,” East Carolina coach Steve Logan said.

        “So we've got to stay real, real linear in our thinking and we've got to stay on the dot, and the dot is Louisville.”

        For Louisville, the program has come a long way since going 1-10 under former coach Ron Cooper four seasons ago. The Cardinals were 0-6 in the C-USA that year, but are 11-1 in their last 12 league games under Smith.


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