The open week was a good opportunity for the University of Louisville football team to get back to the fundamentals and prepare for the final three game of the 2017 season – the first coming Saturday against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

“You never get a chance to relax,” running backs coach Kolby Smith said following Tuesday’s practice. “However, it was a good chance for us to take a step back and become a better football team. We focused a lot on ourselves and just tried to get better as we close out the year.”

Coming off a disappointing loss to Wake Forest, the Cardinals are one victory shy of securing eight-consecutive seasons of being bowl eligible. At 5-4, one might think that the team’s attitude is down, but wide receiver Jaylen Smith said it’s quite the opposite.

“It’s still very energetic and positive,” Jaylen Smith said of the team’s attitude heading into this weekend’s game. “The coaches always say you can control two things: effort and attitude. We are still keeping a positive attitude. The attitude is that we have to win out, and that’s what we are going to try and do.”

With three games remaining on the schedule, Smith knows that time is running out on the season, and opportunities to get to the postseason are dwindling – making Saturday’s game a must-win.

“There is no better time than the present,” Smith said. “We need to do it now. We aren’t trying to look forward to anything. We are playing Virginia this week and we have to win this one. That’s where our focus is heading into this week.”

Returning home this week to face a solid Virginia team, the Cardinals and Cavaliers have played three-straight games that have gone down to the wire.

Last season, Smith made an acrobatic catch in the end zone with 13 seconds left for a 32-25 win in Charlottesville, and the Cardinals held off a late rally at home in 2015 to win 38-31. In their first road ACC game in 2014, the Cavaliers capitalized on a late fumble and kicked a field goal for a 23-21 win.

“We been playing the same guys since we’ve joined the ACC,” Smith added. “My freshman year, we beat them by seven and last year we won late. We know they are a good team and they play hard all the way to the end.”

Facing the Cavaliers this week, Smith reminisced about his game-winning catch last year, calling it the highlight of his season a year ago – a play that helped propel the Cardinals toward a nine-win season.

“It was definitely the highlight of my season last year,” Smith said. “Doing that in dramatic fashion, and the end of the game, was really one of the highlights of my career.”

Smith and the Cardinals are hoping for another win – even if it requires some dramatics – when they host the Cavaliers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

by Rocco Gasparro

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