Was that the real Syracuse last week? The real Louisville?
Both teams were able to do what they do best. The Orange had good balance on offense and attacked on defense against West Virginia. The Cardinals pounded the ball and let their defense lead the way against Rutgers.
The result: victories for both.
Now the two meet Saturday hoping to gain a little momentum in their push for a conference championship. Louisville has won two straight in the series but is still looking for back-to-back conference wins for the first time under Charlie Strong.
Syracuse is hoping to avoid a letdown after a 49-23 win over the Mountaineers, especially with increasing chatter that the Orange could be BCS bound if they play that way each week.
"With a great performance comes great expectations," Syracuse defensive end Mikhail Marinovich said. "People are going to expect to see that every week. We're just not focusing on the game after next or what’s happening in the future. Everybody is focused on the game at hand. Since this coaching staff has been here, they haven’t beaten Louisville. We’re just looking to really focus on the stuff that got us beat last year."
Louisville ran for 160 yards on the Orange last season. Their run game has not been nearly as effective this season, but the Cardinals picked it up against Rutgers as Jeremy Wright became the first 100-yard rusher of the season. Louisville did not exactly score a bushel of points, but the Cardinals did get enough to win.
But perhaps most impressive was the play of the offensive line, which has been banged up all season. The Cardinals entered the game ranked almost near the bottom in the country in sacks, allowing 3.7 per game.
Louisville had given up four or more sacks in four of the first six games. But the Cardinals did not give up one sack for the first time all season with the lineup of center Mario Benavides, guards Jake Smith and John Miller, and tackles Ryan Kessling and Alex Kupper. Quite impressive considering Rutgers went into the game with 24 sacks.
"It definitely helps us on the offensive line in terms of confidence," Benavides said. "It helps across the board on offense because we play better. The quarterbacks have more confidence in us, the wide receivers have more confidence in us, the running backs. We’re starting to grow, but we have to keep growing and not get complacent. As a young team, you take success and you tend to get fat and happy. Our coaches are doing a good job of keeping us grounded."
Though the grind-it-out Louisville style presents a different challenge than the air-it-out West Virginia style, the Syracuse defense also got some much needed momentum from its performance last week.
It helped having defensive end Chandler Jones back. He had two of the team's four sacks to help boost a group that had not gotten as much pressure on the quarterback. That, of course, helps out the rest of the defense and Syracuse posted its largest margin of victory.
"It does give us confidence," Marinovich said. "When we’re firing on all cylinders, there’s no telling what we can do. But it also raises the bar to work harder every day and take our game to the next level."