Head coach Charlie Strong spoke with reporters on Monday at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex to recap last week’s home win over North Carolina and preview the 18th-ranked Cardinals’ first road game of the season at FIU. Louisville and the Panthers will kick off on Saturday at 7 p.m., ET at FIU Stadium in Miami and the game can be seen on ESPN3 at WatchESPN.com.
The Cardinals improved to 3-0 overall with their 39-34 victory over the Tar Heels last Saturday afternoon in Louisville. U of L is 3-0 for the first time since the 2006 season, when the Cardinals opened the year 8-0 before falling to Rutgers. Louisville went on to finish 12-1 that season, which ended with a 24-13 win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. FIU enters the weekend at 1-2 on the season after suffering a 33-20 loss at Central Florida last Saturday. The Panthers opened the season with a loss at Duke before earning home win over Akron in week two.
Notes & quotes from Monday’s press conference
Opening statement from Charlie Strong: “After three home games, we’re getting ready to hit a tough part of our schedule as we’re going to be away from home for a month. We play two, we get an open week and then we go to Pittsburgh. What’s going to be critical during this time is that we maintain our focus, we maintain our emotion and we’re going to have to play with confidence and compete. Every second has to count.”
- Last season, Louisville dropped a 24-17 home decision to FIU as Winston Fraser returned an interception for a touchdown and T.Y. Hilton scored touchdowns on a pair of long receptions. This season, the Panthers have averaged 29.0 points per game while piling up an average of 420 yards of total offense in three outings. That total yardage average includes more than 180 yards rushing, led by Kedrick Rhodes’ 75.0 yards per game.
CS: “Last season, looking at FIU, they came in here and beat us. And they actually beat us on two big plays — a 74-yard pass and an 83-yard pass. They return eight starters on offense. Their quarterback, (Jake) Medlock, is playing very well right now and hasn’t thrown an interception. They have a really good running game led by (Darian) Mallary and (Kedrick) Rhodes. Both of those backs are doing a very good of carrying the football. And not only are they rushing the ball, but they’re doing a good job of coming out of the backfield and catching the football. Wide receiver Wayne Times has 17 catches for them, so when you look at them offensively, they’re very multiple. It’s a scheme where they’re going to run the read play. The quarterback does a good job of running the football and he also does a good job of throwing the football. It’s so critical and important that defensively, we play within our scheme. We have to make sure that we play gap sound and take care of the responsibilities.”
- Saturday night’s matchup with FIU will be the Cardinals’ first road test of 2012. During the first two seasons under the guidance of Strong, Louisville has played well away from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium earning an 8-5 record in road and neutral site games, including two bowl appearances.
CS: “What’s going to be critical for us is when we go on the road, we have to pack our defense. Defensively, we’re going to have to play well. We have to play well in the kicking game. The thing the kicking game does is it changes the field position for us. We have to be disciplined and do what we’re coached to do. We have to play together. Anytime you’re on the road, it’s all about your togetherness. It’s us against them, so as a team, you have to play together. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. The next month is going to be a really good challenge for us. We’re going to see how strong of a football team we are and how well we can play away from home.”
- After rolling out to a 36-7 halftime lead with a dominant first half performance against North Carolina, the Cardinals were outscored 27-3 in the second half. Louisville was forced to make a defensive stand inside its own 10-yard line in the final two moments to preserve the win.
CS: “It was more of the fourth quarter where they outscored us 20-3. And it was the big plays for them (that was the difference). When you’re dealing with a young football team, they have to continue to play. You come in at halftime and you have a big lead, we’ve never been placed in that position before. You go back out in the second half and we as a coaching staff have to make sure they don’t lose their focus. More than anything it was us losing our focus and not playing with the same emotion we played with in the first half.
“What’s amazing and what was really good about that game is that when the players came in the lockerroom, there was a feeling that they had lost the game. That’s what you wanted them to feel like. A year ago, we lost a game and they didn’t feel as bad as they felt on Saturday.”
- Louisville has 33 players on its 2012 roster from the state of Florida, including more than 20 from Miami and the surrounding area. With so many players from the area, the Cardinals are sure to have some fan support for the FIU game from families and friends.
CS: “The positive is going to be that the players’ families will be there, so we feel like we’re going to have little bit of a crowd. One of the issues can be that they’ll all want to see them and be around them. I have some time blocked out for them to see their families, but this is a business trip. When we give them the time to visit with their families, they can go visit with them, but we have to get on with our business too.”