By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
At this week’s regularly scheduled EKU football press conference, the focus of many of the questions asked by a larger than normal contingent of media members was not the Colonels.
No surprise, really.
After all, it’s not often that EKU faces a team with a realistic shot at a BCS National Championship and has a top-notch, legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate on its roster.
The Colonels (1-0) will head into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium today as huge underdogs as they look to knock off No. 8 Louisville (1-0).
Game time is set for noon.
“It’s a difficult thing to do, but I think our guys have confidence in the fact that this is the way we prepare, we are going to prepare for this game the same way we prepare for every other game,” EKU coach Dean Hood said of beating Louisville. “And if we play our best and some things happen, then anything is possible.”
The Colonels haven’t won a game against an Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school in 28 years (Louisville, 45-21 in 1985).
Still, EKU has come close to pulling off an epic upset in recent years. The Colonels fell 19-13 to Indiana in 2009, lost at Louisville 23-13 in 2010 and had a late lead before falling at Kansas State, 10-7, two years ago.
But, they have also been on the wrong side of lopsided scores against FBS teams in the post-Roy Kidd era, including a 48-6 loss last season to Purdue and a 40-7 loss to Cincinnati in 2008.
The Cardinals, however, may be the best team the Colonels have played in recent memory.
“It’s exciting, but it’s just another game for us,” EKU senior offensive lineman Justin Meredith said. “We’ve got to prepare the same way. Have the same intensity all week and come out ready to play.”
Last week, eight Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams picked up wins over FBS schools, highlighted by OVC champion Eastern Illinois’ 40-19 victory over San Diego State.
The Colonels know it can be done.
And they are looking forward to the challenge.
“I don’t necessarily think we have any concerns,” EKU senior defensive lineman David Carter said. “If we go out and play our style of football, which is run to the ball, make big hits and get turnovers, then we will be fine.”
Both teams opened the season last week with big wins at home.
Behind the play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville had no trouble rolling past Ohio last Sunday, 49-7. The junior QB vaulted himself into the early Heisman conversation by throwing for five touchdowns and 355 yards.
Last season, Bridgewater threw for almost 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns with just eight interceptions as Louisville won 11 games and shocked Florida, 33-23, in the Sugar Bowl.
“He’s for real. A lot of time there’s a lot of media attention around someone who just had one good year,” Hood said. “This isn’t the case. This kid is legit. They are saying that he will be the first quarterback taken and there’s nothing that you watch on film that says that that’s not true. He’s phenomenal.”
The Colonels understand that to have any chance of pulling a major upset they must contain the Bridgewater.
“Our defense, we fly around to the ball,” Carter said. “We pride ourselves on making big hits and getting turnovers. Ohio’s defensive line and linebackers didn’t put as much pressure on Bridgewater as we plan to. Overall, they are a good offense, but if we play sound defense and play to our abilities then hopefully we will be able to get some sacks on Bridgewater and stop the run.”
EKU had its offense on track last week against Robert Morris.
The Colonels had 401 total yards (207 rushing and 194 passing) and racked up 22 first downs in a convincing 38-6 win.
EKU used a balanced attack with four different backs getting at least five carries each (Caleb Watkins and J.J. Jude nine each, Jared Sanders eight and Thomas Owens five) and 11 players catching at least one pass from junior quarterback Jared McClain.
Ohio had just 81 yards rushing last week against Louisville and finished with only 273 total yards of offense, most of which came late against backups.
“As long as we stay on our blocks and protect well I feel that we have skill positions players who can make plays,” Meredith said. “We are going to try to establish the run game first, then throw deep balls and try to make big plays.”
The Colonels do have some injury concerns.
Owens and safety Brandon Stanley are likely out, along with fullback Jeremy James, defensive back Paul Ritter and center Austin Jaggers.
Wide receivers Jaucady Rutledge and Ike Ariguzo are questionable, but tight ends Matt Lengel and Nathan Watts should both play.
“We are going to give them a fight,” Carter said.
It won’t be easy, but the Colonels are certainly confident.
“We know what we need to do extra to get the job done,” Meredith said.