Thursday, December 18, 2003

Louisville vs. Miami: A closer look

Time/TV: 7:30 p.m./ESPN2.

Records: Louisville 9-3, Miami 12-1.

Line: Miami by 13 1/2.

Series: First meeting.

Payout per team: $750,000.

How they got here: Louisville is an at-large pick from Conference USA; Miami won the Mid-American Conference title.

Why you should watch: Two good offenses will be displayed, with Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger possibly making his last start before turning pro.

About Louisville: The Cardinals received surprisingly good play from junior QB Stefan LeFors, a first-year starter who helped them average 488.6 yards of offense (sixth in the nation). The running game has been excellent with Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates. WR J.R. Russell is the Cards' big-play threat. The defense is mediocre, especially against the pass. But LB Robert McCune (138 tackles) and E Marcus Jones (15 tackles for loss, eight sacks) have played well.

About Miami: The RedHawks have won 12 consecutive games since opening the season with a loss at Iowa. Roethlisberger (316.2 ypg, 33 TDs, 10 picks, 69.5 completion percentage) heads a powerful offense (493.8 ypg, fourth in the nation) that has scored at least 41 points 10 times and at least 33 in every game but the opener. TBs Cal Murray and Mike Smith complement the passing game. The defense has been uneven but has played well in big games. End Phil Smith has 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks and is backed by linebackers Terrell Jones, John Busing and Terna Nande.

The Key: Louisville must get consistent pressure on Roethlisberger. One problem: Louisville managed just 24 sacks this season, and Roethlisberger was sacked only 17 times. Roethlisberger threw four picks in the opener as Iowa got good pressure, then just six in the next 12 games.

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