There have been so many positives for No. 20 Duke and No. 18 Louisville this season, a season of breakthroughs for both teams.
Now, with the Atlantic Coast Conference rivals meeting Saturday in Louisville, Ky., one of them is about to pick up their first losing streak of the season.
Louisville (6-1, 3-1 ACC) had a week to stew after its lone defeat, while Duke (5-2, 2-1) will be taking on its fourth nationally ranked opponent of the season after dropping a major showdown last Saturday.
“If we finish strong, maybe good things happen at the end,” Louisville coach Jeff Brohm said. “If you can’t win this next game, then obviously you’ve got to regroup.”
Not all is lost for either team. The winner will continue to control on the track for landing a spot in the ACC championship game.
“We have a lot of football left,” Duke defensive lineman DeWayne Carter said. “We just have to focus on what is in front of us.”
Duke’s loss Saturday night at No. 4 Florida State was certainly understandable — though the Blue Devils didn’t trail in the game until early in the fourth quarter.
But expecting another hostile environment at Louisville, coach Mike Elko said there needs to be an uptick in the passing attack. The Blue Devils have completed a total of 12 passes in their last two games combined.
“In those types of games and those types of atmospheres we have to be more efficient in the throw game and execute better,” Elko said, referring to eight completions against Florida State. “We complete that few passes and (can’t) expect to win a game on the road like that. We have to finish better in the fourth quarter and execute at a high level.”
Louisville might still be trying to come to grips with its 38-21 loss two weeks ago to a Pitt team that now has just two wins.
“We have to regroup and understand that from here on out, the schedule gets tougher and every team will come ready to play,” Brohm said. “We have to get better.”
Duke’s approach is bound to be impacted by the status of quarterback Riley Leonard. He was injured near the end of the Notre Dame game and then didn’t play in a 24-3 victory against North Carolina State.
Leonard wasn’t at full strength but played for about three quarters of the Florida State game before departing with an injury. Henry Belin IV might have to fill in again.
“We have a lot of tough kids on this team and that has been a reason as to why we have been successful the last couple of years,” Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton said. “You have to instill some confidence in Henry.”
On Monday, Elko said Leonard is day-to-day.
Duke is averaging 198.3 rushing yards per game, so it isn’t heavily reliant on throwing the ball, anyway.
“They pride themselves on running the football,” Brohm said. “This is a tough, physical football team.”
Even with the week off, there was sour injury news coming from Louisville. Offensive lineman Renato Brown, who had started every game for two seasons until the Pitt game, is out for the season after knee surgery. Running back Jawhar Jordan (hamstring) and defensive back Jarvis Brownlee Jr. (foot) will be monitored this week.
Jordan’s 661 rushing yards are more than all other players combined on the Louisville roster.