Louisville 1 win away from bowl eligibility after 0-3 start
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) A bowl bid was the farthest thing from the minds of Louisville players during an 0-3 start that had the Cardinals wondering if they'd win a game.
The question might soon be where they'll play in the postseason thanks to a 5-1 recovery since then that has put them within a victory of becoming bowl eligible for the sixth straight year. Louisville (5-4, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) must get past Virginia (3-6, 2-3) to reach that six-win threshold, but being this close after its worst start in 31 years speaks volumes about resilience.
''What I'm most proud about this team is how we acted when we didn't win,'' coach Bobby Petrino said during Monday's weekly news conference. ''It hurt, but they stuck together and went out on the practice field and worked hard.''
Louisville's diligence finally yielded offensive dividends in Saturday's 41-17 victory over Syracuse with a season-best 579 yards along with its second-highest scoring total of 2015. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Bolin started in place of injured freshman Lamar Jackson and threw for a season-best 362 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Cole Hikutini.
Bolin excelled both in the shotgun formation as well as under center, with the latter helping open up the ground game for the Cardinals. Petrino was especially happy with his reads and explains why he's giving him another chance to prove himself against the Cavaliers.
''He did good,'' the coach said of Bolin. ''He did a good job of executing under center in the run game and was real decisive on some plays where you have to get the ball out of your hand quick and made plays.
''We need him to go out and play well and not worry anything about any job or losing the job.''
More encouraging was Louisville's ground game that rushed for 217 yards on 31 carries. Petrino credited improved blocking and Bolin lining up under center for helping the Cardinals pound the ball up the middle and outside and create balance opposite 36 passes.
Junior running back Brandon Radcliff thrived in particular after not playing against Wake Forest. He rushed for 117 yards on 10 carries, his first 100-yard rushing effort since leading the team in rushing last season.
His performance complemented Jeremy Smith's 13-carry, 71-yard effort and demonstrated another weapon the Cardinals hope to keep using.
''I'm just going to go as long as they call on me,'' Radcliff said.
Though everything clicked well enough to put the Cardinals over .500, they're taking nothing for granted against a Cavaliers team that has been competitive despite close losses. In the past two weeks Virginia has won and lost contests by 27-21 scores and still has mathematical chances at a bowl bid as well.
''Obviously, the most important game is this one,'' Cavaliers coach Mike London said Monday. ''I'm not counting up how many wins - this is the biggest one.''
Louisville has maintained that same approach since September and isn't likely to let up. The Cardinals certainly haven't forgotten last season's 23-21 loss to the Cavs in Charlottesville, a winnable game they let slip away with mistakes. After putting together a complete game, they certainly don't want to look past any opponent, especially one they want to settle a score against.
Said Louisville cornerback Trumaine Washington, ''We've got to get our revenge.''
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Charlottesville, Virginia, contributed to this report.