The 17th-ranked Cardinals enter Saturday night’s road matchup at Southern Mississippi following their lowest scoring and lowest total yardage performances of the season in last week’s 28-21 win at FIU. Louisville finished with just 323 yards of total offense, more than 130 yards less than the previous low of 462 a week earlier against North Carolina. Following last week’s outing, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson put it very simply as to what the Cardinals must do this week in preparation for Southern Miss.
“We just have to get better,” said Watson. “We’re trying to chase perfection, so we have a lot of improving to do. It would be that way even we had played (at FIU) the way we did in the first three games. We have to learn to be a team that finishes, especially on our side of the ball. We did not do that in the last game.”
The drop-off in scoring and production offensively actually started with the second half of the win over UNC on Sept. 15. During the Cardinals’ last six quarters, they’ve scored just 31 points while managing 425 yards of total offense. The explanation for the recent struggles is easy to pinpoint for Watson.
“I think our biggest enemy is consistency,” Watson explained to reporters on Tuesday. “At times, we’re lights out and at other times, we’re not. We’re just too inconsistent. That’s something our sophomores and juniors have to learn. They have to learn how to be a consistent football team and we’re not there yet.”
The pursuit of the kind of consistency needed to finish games and find winning success on a weekly basis starts with the coaching staff and the Cardinals’ practice sessions. For Louisville to continue its rise in the national rankings and have a chance at winning the program’s second straight BIG EAST title, Watson says the coaches must lead by example.
“We just keep coaching hard. We treat every day like it’s training camp or a spring practice,” Watson said. “As a coach, that’s when you’re trying to stress fundamentals and you’re stressing scheme. It’s the little details that make the big picture work and that’s what we have to keep doing as a staff. We have to keep demanding that and holding ourselves accountable because it all starts with us.”
The Cardinals hope to carry the momentum of a strong practice week into Saturday’s matchup with the Golden Eagles. USM is directed by first year head coach Ellis Johnson, who previously served four seasons at South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator. With the new coaching staff came a new defensive scheme and some early growing pains for Southern Miss. However, Watson sees a talented group of players on defense for USM and another strong challenge ahead for the Cardinals.
“They’re very athletic. I know they’re learning a new style on defense, but every week, you see improvement,” said Watson. “In the game of football, you respect the fact that those kids are getting coached. They have a very good staff. Those guys are all veterans and they’ve been around the ball for a long while. They’ll have them up to speed. They’re teaching their defense right now, so they’re going to give us all we want.”