After going on the road for the first time this season and earning a 28-21 win at FIU last Saturday night, the Cardinals were reminded first hand of the challenges that come with playing away from home. Despite not playing its best football of the season, 17th-ranked Louisville found a way to win and will now turns its focus to a new road challenge at Southern Mississippi this weekend (Saturday, 8 p.m., ET, CBS Sports Network).
“Going on the road for the second straight week, what’s going to be critical for us is that we maintain our focus, our emotion and our confidence,” said Strong during Monday’s weekly press conference at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex. “Last week, we got behind 14-7 and I never lost confidence in our team. I felt like, when we got to 28-14, we didn’t really finish and we relaxed.”
The breakdowns for the Cardinals at FIU came on both sides of the ball as they were outgained 326-323 in total offense. Louisville allowed a season-high 128 yards rushing and was limited to a season-low in total offense.
“Defensively, we allowed (FIU) to run the football and we missed four sacks. We have to continue to put pressure on the quarterback and get him down at the right time,” Strong said. “Offensively, we just never got in a rhythm and never got in sync. It wasn’t one of Teddy’s (Bridgewater) best games because we expect him to play better than that each week. Andrell Smith had an outstanding game. Our running backs were able to run the ball and offensive line did a good job of blocking. On special teams, we have to get better.”
After winning three straight games at home to open the season, Louisville didn’t appear to play at the same level in its first road test. For Strong, he was not surprised at what he saw on Saturday night because of the practices that led up to the road trip.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first three games, but in our fourth game, we didn’t play at the tempo we had been playing at,” said Strong. “We didn’t practice well last week, so going into that game, I knew we weren’t going to play well. We’re still dealing with a young football team. As coaches, we still have to be demanding and we have to make sure we coach the little things.”
Cardinals Taking on Coaches’ Character
Off to the program’s best start since 2006, Strong’s third Louisville team seems to have a better grasp of what he and his coaching staff are demanding on a daily basis. And despite not playing its best football at FIU, the Cardinals left Miami with their fourth straight win showing the maturity that has developed within the team.
“With us being in the program for three years, this is our football team,” said Strong. “The toughness is there. Those games we were losing by seven last year we’re winning by seven this season. Now that we’ve had them in the program, they understand how to compete. They’re playing with confidence. That’s what you like about this football team. If you look at the past two seasons, this is a totally different football team.”
Emergence of Andrell Smith
On Saturday at FIU, senior wide receiver Andrell Smith had a career-best five catches for a season-high 50 yards and one touchdown. The Miami native has caught at least two passes in each of the Cardinals’ first four games this season and has emerged as one of the team’s most physical and reliable players on offense.
“When a guy gets to his senior year, you’d like to see him play his best football and he’s playing his best football,” Strong said of Smith on Monday afternoon. “The one-handed catch (at FIU) was unbelievable and on the touchdown catch, I thought the guy was on him but he came away with the big catch. He’s so physical that they can’t get him down. You watch people bouncing off of him because he’s running so strong. It’s fun and I’m so happy for him.”
Locked In For Their Best Shot
Having won four straight games to open the season and ranked as highly as No. 17 in the latest USA Today coaches’ poll, the Cardinals have no chance at sneaking up on an opponent. With a target on their backs as a high caliber team, Strong is preparing his squad to be ready for a huge challenge every time they take the field.
“I told our guys from here on out, we’re going to get the best. Whomever we play, we’re going to get their very best, so don’t ever look at someone’s record, especially when you’re going into someone else’s house,” warned Strong. “What we have to do is maintain our focus and not get caught up in the emotion of the game. We must stay level-headed. We’re going to get someone’s best no matter where we go play, so it’s all about us making sure our guys are locked in and focused.”