Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Louisville winning by subtraction

By Chris Duncan
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - What the Louisville Cardinals haven't done in winning their first two games is as impressive as what they have done.

The Cardinals haven't fumbled, haven't allowed a sack of quarterback Stefan LeFors and haven't committed a turnover or punted in either fourth quarter.

They also haven't trailed.

"It's really nice to be 2-0, of course, but I like the way we're playing," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said during his weekly news conference on Monday. "Right now, we're not beating ourselves. Any time you don't beat yourselves, you have a chance to win."

Louisville followed its season-opening win at Kentucky with a 30-20 triumph at Syracuse last Saturday. The Cardinals did most of the same things right in each game, wearing down an opposing defense with a punishing running game, excelling on special teams and keeping penalties to a minimum.

"I like the confidence our players are possessing. I like the way they work hard during the week," Petrino said.

Last season's anemic ground attack is apparently history.

Eric Shelton rushed for 135 yards against the Orangemen after running for 151 against the Wildcats. He'll try to become the first Cardinal since Frank Moreau in 1999 to rush for more than 100 yards in three straight games when Louisville plays host to Texas-El Paso (0-3) on Saturday.

"We're finding out that the more you get into a game, the harder it is to tackle Eric. People start not wanting to tackle him," Petrino said. "He's seeing things, he's been patient when he's supposed to be patient, he's hitting the hole. And then as the game goes on, his power shows up more and more."

The Cardinals' kicking game has been equally impressive so far.

On Saturday, freshman punter Brent Moody averaged 47 yards on three punts substituting for senior Wade Tydlacka, who's out with a knee injury. Senior placekicker Nate Smith handled Tydlacka's kickoff duties, earning three touchbacks. He also hit three field goals and is 4-for-4 on the season.

J.R. Russell blocked a punt that yielded a touchdown against Kentucky. In Syracuse, Broderick Clark had 129 return yards on four kickoffs, including a 51-yarder that set up one of Smith's field goals.

"Our special teams came up big again for us," Petrino said.

The Cardinals also continued to avoid penalties, a scourge of recent Louisville teams. Last season, the Cardinals averaged 10.3 penalties for 92 yards per game; this season, Louisville has been flagged a total of nine times.

Petrino said he hasn't made penalties a major point of emphasis and credits his staff for reducing them.

"We really don't talk about it a whole lot," Petrino said. "The coaches have done a good job of coaching technique - understanding where our hands should be placed and really working hard at the players to play the game the way it's supposed to be played."

Petrino is emphasizing the team's mental approach this week as it prepares to play the nation's most mistake-prone team. The Miners have committed 14 turnovers in three games, the most by any Division I-A team.

"You challenge them to practice and prepare exactly the same way you have the previous two games," Petrino said. "Usually, when you win you push a little harder - you expect more, you demand more of the coaches and the players. That's what we'll try to do. We'll find out what kind of maturity we have."

The Cardinals will christen their new FieldTurf and a home-game tradition against UTEP. About three hours before kickoff, the team will climb off buses and walk across the south parking lot to the stadium - presumably, with a large crowd cheering them on.

"We're looking forward to the home opener," Petrino said. "Hopefully, everyone will want to come out and watch these guys play."

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