LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — No. 18 Louisville had a week off to reset from a loss and now aims to avoid a modest skid. No. 20 Duke has the same goal, which requires finally solving the Cardinals.
Maintaining at least a piece of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference is the mutual objective on Saturday for both teams, both of whom hope to reclaim the identities and flow that helped fuel strong starts. In the case of Louisville (6-1, 3-1 ACC), that means avoiding the freebies that surrendered a lead to Pittsburgh in a 38-21 loss that followed a milestone win over Notre Dame.
“The issue is getting refocused and dialed back in,” said first-year Louisville coach Jeff Brohm, who acknowledged that it was difficult forgetting three interceptions against the Panthers, with one returned for a touchdown.
“While we got off to a good start, it means nothing. You’re judged on how you do at the end of the year. We’ve had some tough battles and we’ve found ways to win close games, and I’m not guaranteeing we’re going to have more. We have to make sure we dig deep as coaches and players and find a way to win all the close games we play.”
Explosive plays and scoring have sparked Louisville, though it could find resistance by a Duke defense yielding just 13.9 points per game despite a 38-20 loss at No. 4 Florida State. The Blue Devils had allowed seven touchdowns through the six games amid their strong start, though they faded in the fourth quarter against the first-place Seminoles.
They nonetheless have just the one league loss and remain in the chase for a berth in the conference championship game.
“The one thing I don’t question about this group is response,” Duke second-year coach Mike Elko said. “I think whether we go out next week and perform well enough to get the desired result, we’ll find that out on Saturday. But we’re certainly going to respond the right way.”
Louisville receiver Jamari Thrash posted his second 100-yard game at Pitt with nine catches for 120 yards. He has 17 receptions for 195 yards the past two games and ranks second in the ACC with 639 yards, a 91.3-yard average and six touchdowns. Louisville running back Jawhar Jordan managed just two carries for eight yards at Pitt because of injury but is listed as the starter. His 661 yards rushing and 94.4-yard average per game rank second in the ACC behind North Carolina’s Omarion Hampton.
The Blue Devils continue to rank among the nation’s top defenses even with giving up a season-high 38 points, a total that included a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on special teams. Duke is fifth in the Bowl Subdivision ranks by allowing 13.9 points and 24th nationally in total offense at 315.9 yards per game.
BACK ON TARGET
Duke had a season-low 273 total yards last week, which marked the fifth straight week that the Blue Devils had a lower output than the previous game. Most of that production is coming from an effective ground game led by Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore, but the Blue Devils are trying to get their passing game clicking again.
Dual-threat quarterback Riley Leonard grinded through an ankle injury that had sidelined him for a game before returning against FSU. But he threw for just 69 yards on 7-for-16 passing with one interception and threw for just 134 yards in the Blue Devils’ first loss to Notre Dame.
“We just have to find a better rhythm, and it’s at every level,” Elko said, adding: “You’ve got to protect. You’ve got to make clean pockets. … We’ve got to separate and get open on the perimeter. I don’t think there’s a magical answer to it.”
Louisville sophomore Austin Collins is expected to make his second consecutive start at right guard this week in place of injured Ronato Brown, whom Brohm said this week will miss the remainder of this season with a knee injury sustained before the loss at Pitt.
The Cardinals have won all three meetings by at least 10 points, including a 40-3 win in 2002 before the Cardinals were an ACC member. The teams have met only once at Louisville (2016), and the Cardinals won the last meeting 62-22 in Durham two years ago.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Durham, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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