December 23, 2014

Bobby Petrino's return to coaching at Western Kentucky in 2013 did not end with a bowl invite despite an 8-4 season for the Hilltoppers.

Prowling the sideline again at Louisville, however, has him back in a familiar place.

Petrino leads the No. 20 Cardinals into Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday night for a tough Belk Bowl matchup with 13th-ranked Georgia.

In its fourth year since a six-year stint as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Belk is among four bowls outside the major ones to feature two ranked programs.

During Petrino's first stint at Louisville from 2003-06, the Cardinals went 39-7 in the regular season and 2-2 in bowl games, including an Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest in his final year.

Following that win, Petrino departed for the NFL, lasting one season with the Atlanta Falcons before returning to the college ranks for a four-year tenure at Arkansas that ended in personal scandal. A one-year hiatus and his one season at Western Kentucky followed before Petrino's return to the Bluegrass State.

In his first year back at the helm, the Cardinals went 9-3 in their ACC debut, tying for the second-best overall mark in the league behind 13-0 Florida State. After going 23-3 over the previous two years, including two bowl wins, they are chasing three straight seasons of double-digit victories for the first time.

"Yeah, we want to get to 10 wins," said Petrino, whose Louisville teams in '03 and '06 accomplished the feat. "That's certainly something our seniors would be very proud of so they can look back at their career and see the double-digit winning seasons they've had."

Louisville is playing in a fifth consecutive bowl game with the only loss in that span coming against N.C. State in the 2011 Belk Bowl. Winning a third straight will be no easy task against the Bulldogs (9-3), who averaged an SEC-best 41.7 points.

Georgia was 12th in the FBS with an average of 255.0 rushing yards, though it will have to contend with a Louisville team that gave up 93.7 per game on the ground - third best in the country.

"Coach Petrino is obviously doing a great job," Georgia coach Mark Richt told the school's official website. "From what I'm reading, they are 2-0 versus SEC opponents in bowls. They've won five straight against SEC opponents, and Coach Petrino is 5-1 at Louisville versus SEC teams.

"So there will be a great challenge for us to try to change that trend."

Leading the way for the Bulldogs is freshman running back Nick Chubb, who piled up 1,281 rushing yards and scored 12 of his 14 touchdowns on the ground. Chubb had 202 yards on 30 carries in a 45-32 win over Arkansas on Oct. 18.

If Chubb can't find holes against the Cardinals, Georgia has a reliable passer in Hutson Mason. The senior topped 200 yards only three times but had just four interceptions while tossing 20 TDs. He attempted 19 or fewer passes six times and hasn't faced a secondary quite like that of Louisville.

"When you watch (the Bulldogs) on film, they're a very good football team," Petrino said. "They've got a really good offensive line, big running, the quarterback has completed 69 percent of his passes and doesn't throw a lot of picks."

That could change against a Cardinals squad that led the nation with 25 interceptions and boasts a first-team All-American in safety Gerod Holliman. His 14 picks tied the NCAA record and helped him win the Jim Thorpe Award as the country's top defensive back.

While Louisville's offense relies on a platoon of running backs, it will be without Michael Dyer after the senior was ruled academically ineligible. He was one of four players to rush for at least 350 yards this season.

The Cardinals' quarterback situation, meanwhile, is also on unsure footing.

Freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who stepped in when Will Gardner tore an ACL, was knocked out of the season finale against Kentucky with a bruised knee. Third-stringer Kyle Bolin passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns to rally the Cards to a 44-40 victory.

Both Bonnafon and Bolin may see time against Georgia and can rely on senior wide receiver DaVonte Parker, who missed the first seven games with a foot injury but seems to have hit his stride after catching 35 passes for a team-leading 735 yards and five TDs.

Georgia's players may hit the field with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after narrowly missing out on a chance to play for the SEC title.

"This is where we're at," Mason said. "Let's go 10-3, not 9-4, and finish this thing off right. It's been a heck of a season for the offense. Those are things when you're looking back - even though you didn't accomplish the goals you wanted to accomplish - no one can take away that you were part of the best offense in Georgia history."

The Bulldogs' 50th bowl appearance and 17th in a row marks their first-ever matchup with the Cardinals. It also pits them against former Georgia and current Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who was on Richt's staff from 2010-13.

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