Petrino wants time on Cardinals' side against Tulane

Updated: October 16, 2003, 2:44 PM ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believes minutes and seconds will be almost as important as points when the Cardinals host Tulane on Friday night.

The Green Wave (3-3, 1-2 Conference USA) and Cardinals (5-1, 1-1) are the league's top two scoring teams, with a combined 398 points this season.

Petrino said Friday's victor will probably be the team that wins time of possession and limits the opponent's offensive opportunities.

"We've got to keep their quarterback on the sidelines and our offense on the field," Petrino said. "Between our offense controlling the ball and our defense getting them off the field, it's going to be important that we maintain possession of the ball."

Tulane lost to Houston 45-42 last week, a surprisingly close result considering the Cougars won time of possession 42:57 to 17:03. Houston ran 105 plays to Tulane's 55.

"They played six quarters of offense, we played three," said Tulane coach Chris Scelfo. "That was the biggest difference in the game."

If Houston's clock-milking had an upside, it gave Tulane's patchwork defense plenty of on-the-job training.

Scelfo has lost eight defensive starters to injuries this season and used nine true or redshirt freshmen against the Cougars.

"It's a situation that is unforeseen, uncontrollable, but that is the hand we're dealt, and we've got to go out there and play," Scelfo said. "Roles are changing daily for those players on defense. Every day is a challenge."

The unit's numbers aren't pretty. The Green Wave ranks 117th and last in the nation in total defense (493 yards per game) and 115th in scoring defense (38.5 points per game).

"Defensively, we're really struggling," Scelfo said. "We're playing kids who aren't quite ready to play, but they'll continue to get better."

Petrino said the Cardinals should be able to light up Tulane's defense as long as they limit their mistakes.

Louisville coughed up only three turnovers in its first three games, but has seven in its last three contests. Despite three turnovers in last week's 34-10 win over Army, Louisville rolled up 619 yards, its best output in five years.

The Cardinals rushed for 208 yards, their highest total since their opening win at Kentucky. Eric Shelton rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns against Army, his best performance since topping 100 yards in Louisville's first two games.

"I was just going back to what I can do best, that's (being) a north-south runner, instead of trying to incorporate things into my style of run that don't belong," said Shelton.

The Green Wave is giving up 229 rushing yards per game, but Shelton isn't taking anything for granted.

"Tulane might be giving up a lot of yards on the ground, but a lot of teams we've faced have given up a lot of yards on the ground," he said. "I just expect the worst and hope for the best."

No matter how well Louisville's offense runs, the defense will eventually have to face Tulane senior quarterback J.P. Losman and his fleet of talented receivers. Losman ranks 10th in the nation in total offense (309.7 yards per game) and 15th in pass efficiency.

Petrino expects Losman to play in the NFL next season.

"He can make all the throws, he's very athletic," Petrino said. "There's as big a concern with him running out and making plays as there is in him throwing the ball from the pocket."

Louisville's defense ranks second in the league in scoring defense (18.5 points per game), but eighth in total defense (369.8 yards per game).

"They're not giving up many points and that's the biggest stat you can have from a defensive standpoint," Scelfo said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index