October 17, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville knows there's no room for errors when it faces North Carolina State.

That was hard-learned lesson in last week's 23-17 loss at Clemson, when Louisville (5-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) gave up touchdowns on a 72-yard punt return and an end-zone fumble. Penalties also doomed the Cardinals, who aim not to beat themselves against the Wolfpack (4-3, 0-3).

''We've just got to get better,'' Louisville senior right guard Jake Smith said. ''Everybody's optimistic, real enthusiastic at practice, a lot of energy. That's one thing about this team; everybody wants to see it (get) better.''

Saturday's game marks the first meeting between the schools since N.C. State beat Louisville 31-24 in the 2011 Belk Bowl for their first victory in four series meetings. The Cardinals have won back-to-back bowls since and can become eligible for a fourth straight postseason with a victory.

North Carolina State is trying to end a three-game losing streak with its first ACC win. Tough as things have gone for the Wolfpack during their slide, including a 41-0 shutout loss at Clemson two weeks ago, they still have a shot at becoming bowl eligible.

''We can definitely do that,'' defensive lineman Mike Rose said. ''We have the schedule and we have the team to where we can put it together, win some games, go to a decent bowl.''

But the `Pack must do so without linebacker Jerod Fernandez and safety Josh Jones, two starters who were among seven players suspended Monday by the school following an off-campus BB incident. Receiver Johnathan Alston (14 catches, 131 yards) was also disciplined.

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said he is encouraged by the team's response in the aftermath this week and hopes they can carry over that focus and intensity against the Cardinals.

''It's always going to be us trying to prove ourselves, and we've just got to go earn a win, keep fighting and never give up,'' Doeren said Wednesday on the ACC coaches teleconference. ''I think that's the thing our guys buy into, staying the course and being patient and believing in each other.''

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Here are some things to watch Saturday when Louisville hosts North Carolina State on homecoming:

DUAL CARDINALS QUARTERBACKS: Sophomore Will Gardner will make his first start in four games after rallying Louisville last week at Clemson, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon should also get some snaps in certain situations. Gardner replaced Bonnafon in the second half last Saturday and looked sharp after missing two games with a sore left knee.

HUGE VOIDS: The suspensions of Fernandez and Jones leave the Wolfpack without two of their top four defenders. Fernandez leads the team with 58 tackles and two interceptions, both against Florida State's Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston. Jones is fourth with 38 stops including 13 against Boston College.

PICKOFF MASTERS: Interceptions just keep on coming for Louisville's opportunistic secondary, which snatched two last week at Clemson to share the national lead with Boise State with 14. Safety Gerod Holliman has grabbed half of them, though he had neither of the Cardinals' INTs against the Tigers. Five teammates have combined for the other seven.

DUAL-THREAT BRISSETT: N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett can pass (1573 yards, 14 touchdowns) and run (62 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD). But Brissett faces a huge challenge against Louisville's top-ranked defense, which is allowing just 230.7 yards per game and hasn't yielded a touchdown in its last 17 quarters dating back to Sept. 13 at Virginia.

HOMECOMING COURT: Cardinals senior linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin is among five finalists for king and already has a vote from Gardner, who joked this week that ''I don't think I had much of a choice.'' Louisville junior volleyball player Katie George is a finalist for queen.

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AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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