The good news for the Rams football team is that it held this week’s opponent, Louisville, to only seven points in last year’s meeting.
The bad news is CSU scored only two points against the Cardinals at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium a season ago.
When Louisville comes to Hughes Stadium on Saturday night, two evenly matched teams will do battle in a game that could be a defining point for either teams’ season. CSU’s home opener kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
The Rams are coming off a difficult loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl last weekend. CSU once again lost a fourth quarter lead, but this time, could not salvage a comeback as it had done in the first two games of the season. The defeat dropped the Rams to 2-1 on the season.
“We’re pretty pissed that we lost,” linebacker Drew Wood said. “And we’re going to try to comeback from that and make Louisville pay for it.”
The Cardinals come to Fort Collins after a 40-3 drubbing of the Duke Blue Devils. Louisville began the season ranked No. 18 in the country, but an opening loss to Kentucky dropped it out of the polls.
“(Our offense) didn’t score against them last year, so they’ve got some highly touted players there,” head coach Sonny Lubick said. “It will be a real test for our offense. We’ve played against three real quality defensive football teams and Louisville is probably as good as any.”
The Cardinals had been the preseason media darling, with talk of running the table and getting into the BCS. However, the loss to Kentucky shifted the Cinderella talk to CSU after the Rams upset of then-No. 7 University of Colorado.
Yet, just like the Cardinals before them, the Rams were brought back down to earth after the loss to the Bruins.
After two weeks of gearing up for powerful rushing offenses, CSU will have to adjust for Louisville’s dangerous passing attack. Senior quarterback Dave Ragone is a two-time Conference-USA Offensive Player of the Year and has compiled a 21-6 record as a starter.
“He’s a really smart quarterback, he makes quick reads,” Rams’ defensive end Peter Hogan said. “He’s got a real strong arm and reads the defense real well. He’s been a starter for three years, so he’s real experienced. He’s a good all-around quarterback.”
Despite his success, the Rams found a way to contain Ragone in last year’s meeting. The Rams intercepted the Heisman candidate twice and were able to disrupt his timing with constant pressure and two sacks. Ragone threw for only 213 yards and Louisville’s seven points were its lowest offensive output of the season. The Cardinal’s quarterback knows the third meeting between the two similar teams will be a battle.
“There’s a lot to play for right now,” Ragone said. “This is another challenge for us. This is our toughest road game. We’re both hard-working, blue-collar teams. There are a lot of similarities.”
The Rams’ secondary, which came out of the UCLA game with bumps and bruises, but no serious injuries, knows it will be in for a struggle with Ragone’s passing ability.
“The biggest thing is we just got to get pressure on him,” defensive back Rhett Nelson said. “Last year we did a real good job getting guys in his face, coming in on some blitzes, and making him make quick decisions. That’s going to be the key to our success, getting pressure on him and tightening the coverage.”
CSU’s 7-2 loss in 2001 evened the all-time series between the two teams at 1-1. CSU met Louisville for the first time in the 2000 Liberty Bowl and won 22-17.
Louisville Head Coach John Smith holds the Rams in high esteem after the two close games he has coached against them.
“We’ve got to understand how good this football team this week is going to be,” Smith said. “They’re going to be a test. It’s going to be a heck of a road trip.”
The Rams players are happy to finally return to the friendly confines of Hughes Stadium after three games away from home to start the season.
“It’ll be nice,” Wood said of returning to Hughes. “I’m ready to play there, it’s fun getting the student section right behind you, yelling, screaming and drinking.”
Saturday’s game at Hughes will be the last for the Rams’ at home until Oct. 12 when CSU plays Wyoming for Homecoming.
“Gotta love playing at good ol’ Hughes,” Nelson said. “The Rose Bowl is one of the oldest in the country, but Hughes is ancient. It’ll be nice to see what our fans are made of, to see what they can do for us, and what we can do for them.”