The Cardinals have lost nine consecutive games away from home since winning at Memphis in Oct. 2008, and haven't beaten a ranked team on the road since 2007. That makes the trip to Corvallis a stern test for a team adjusting to its new coaching staff and looking to rediscover a winning attitude.
Since the offense has still found it difficult to put up points early in the season, Strong will rely on his defense and special teams to help get the Cardinals on the winning track away from home and pick up what would be his first signature win.
In particular, the special teams has been surprisingly good this season. Chris Philpott has been perfect on field goals and deadly on kickoffs, with four touchbacks already in 2010. Victor Anderson has emerged as one of the top kick returners in the country while running as well as he has since his freshman season. That could help the Cardinals win the battle for field position, particularly important on the road.
Louisville also is looking for improvement in consistency. The Cardinals haven't put together 60 minutes of football all year, struggling in the first half against Kentucky and for everything but the second quarter on offense against Eastern Kentucky. That kind of effort isn't going to bring a pretty result if it happens against the Beavers.
Linebackers Tyon Dixon and Deon Rogers both made their Cardinals debut against Eastern Kentucky, becoming the sixth and seventh true freshmen to see the field this season. Six of those have been defensive players, with wide receiver Jarrett Davis the lone freshman on the offensive side of the ball to play thus far.
With Bilal Powell running the ball well, the coaching staff has given junior running back Victor Anderson a chore he hadn't had since his freshman year: Taking back kicks. So far, so good. He had a 67-yard return against Kentucky, and followed that with a 59-yard scamper against EKU.
SERIES HISTORY: Louisville leads Oregon State 1-0 (last meeting, 2005, 63-27 Louisville).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: One key for the offense against Oregon State is to avoid the dropped passes that have plagued the receiving corps through the season's first two games. The passing looks very close to being much improved, but the timing isn't quite there yet between Adam Froman and his wideouts, and the receivers aren't helping by letting catchable balls hit the turf. That's been a point of emphasis in practice that the coaching staff hopes leads to tangible results this weekend.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cardinals' big challenge will be stopping the Rogers brothers. Jacquizz Rogers is coming off a sophomore season that saw him rush for 1440 yards and 21 touchdowns, while James Rogers leads the team in catches and had 91 receptions a year ago. The defense struggled mightily on the road last season, allowing more than 30 points in all but one of its six road games in 2009.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys have to understand it's us against them. You're going to be in a hostile environment, so how we're going to respond to the crowd is how we're going to keep our team together." — Louisville coach Charlie Strong told the Louisville Courier-Journal, on his team's upcoming trip to Oregon State.
|STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL|
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Louisville at Oregon State, Sept. 18 — The only other time these two teams met was in 2005, when the two teams combined for 90 points in a 63-27 Cardinals win. It's safe to bet that the points total for this game will be slightly less, since the Cards don't look capable of scoring that many points and the defense appears strong enough not to allow them.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Score early. The Louisville offense hasn't broken out yet this season, and until Adam Froman and the receivers can really get the spread offense clicking it will depend on the ground attack of Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson. But given the quality of Oregon State's offense, the Cardinals will likely need more than the 23 points it managed against a weaker Eastern Kentucky defense to win this week, so gaining some confidence with an early touchdown or two is critical.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DL Rodney Gnat — Gnat was one of the defenders that Charlie Strong and the coaching staff tried to light a fire under during the offseason, and he exploded against Eastern Kentucky with 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. If that's not a one-time-only effort, he could cause all kinds of problems for the Oregon State offensive line.
RB Bilal Powell — Powell has run well for the Cardinals the first two weeks, both grinding out yardage and breaking out the big gainers. He'll be counted on to do more this week, as he and Victor Anderson can help control the tempo and keep Oregon State's offense off the field if it can move the ball on the ground.
LB B.J. Butler — It hasn't taken the true freshman long to earn playing time. He played in the opener against Kentucky, and earned the start against EKU when Brandon Heath was sidelined by finger surgery. The former Georgia commit has a knack for putting pressure on the quarterback, and the Oregon State offense will need to know where he is when he sees the field.
LB Brandon Heath missed the Eastern Kentucky game with an injured finger. He's listed as the starter this week on the depth chart, so odds are good that he will be back against Oregon State.
WR Doug Beaumont finally caught his first touchdown pass in the victory over Eastern Kentucky. The senior has emerged as the most dependable target for Adam Froman, as he's mostly been able to avoid the drops that have plagued the rest of the receivers.