Home-and home series between UNC and Louisville have generally augured big things for at least one team on the field. The first series, in 1995 and 1996, coincided with the rise of the Heels under Mack Brown, and UNC won both games. A decade later, Louisville returned the favor with interest; in the midst of jumping from Conference USA to the Big East the Cardinals had two of their best seasons under Bobby Petrino in 2004 and 2005 and took Carolina behind the woodshed. In the two games, UNC was outscored 103 to 14, and within a year Louisville would be in a BCS bowl an their coach on the way to Arkansas.
The Cardinals have fallen on hard times since that heyday. In three seasons under Steve Kragthorpe, they never finished above .500, and last season under new coach Charlie Strong they finished 7-6 with a trip to the Saint Petersburg Bowl. This season has been a small disaster, with home losses to Florida International and Marshall. Turning it around on the road in Chapel Hill seems to be a tall order.
Louisville has the worst scoring offense in the Big East. They've only made it into the red zone eight times this season, and scored from there only six. While their conference-worst turnover margin hasn't helped, you can mostly pin the blame on the lack of a rushing game. The Cardinals have appeared to settle on senior Victor Anderson to handle most of the carries, but to put it in perspective, the kid is an inch shorter and twenty pounds lighter than Giovani Bernard. And he isn't nearly as fast. UNC has a considerably stronger run defense than anything Louisville has seen this season, and it doesn't look to be pretty.
The Cardinals may also be without their starting quarterback Will Stein, who is hampered by a shoulder injury and will be a game day decision. In his place would be a true freshman, Teddy Bridgewater, who has performed adequately, but not spectacularly in the last two games. Not that he can be held entirely responsible; Louisville had to replace four starters on their offensive line, and it shows.
On defense, Louisville is tough to get a handle on. Their run defense is holding opponents to 2.2 yards per carry, but their opponents haven't been very good. They've defended the pass reasonably well, but teams aren't trying to throw against them very much, either. Louisville could give the Heels trouble, like Rutgers did, or UNC could strike fast and run up the score quickly like they did last week against ECU. This would be a very good week for the Heels to focus on playing all four quarters, a skill they've yet to display this season.
Let's face it, Louisville isn't that far away from heading into a tailspin. If a team from this game is going to go on to big things this season, it's Carolina. But the Tar Heels have played games closer than I'd like this year, and can easily stumble if they do so again on Saturday. What should be an easy win could get frustrating awfully fast.