With 16th-ranked and unbeaten Louisville entering its first bye week of the season, head coach Charlie Strong did not meet with reporters on Monday for his weekly press conference. However, he did participate in the weekly BIG EAST Conference coaches’ teleconference with reporters to provide an update on the progress of his team following last weekend’s 21-17 win at Southern Mississippi.
Playing Conditions Reveal Character in Cardinals
The Cardinals’ win at Southern Miss was especially noteworthy because of the consistent heavy rain and the considerable standing water on the field at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The playing conditions made the passing game nearly impossible for both squads and put even more pressure on Louisville, which trailed 17-6 late in the second quarter. Despite that, the Cardinals found a way to escape with their second straight road win.
“Going on the road is really tough, especially to weather those conditions,” said Strong during Monday’s BIG EAST teleconference. “Our guys were able to come back from 11 points down and you have to like the resiliency of this football team the way they were able to fight and battle on the road. I told the team after the game that this win would speak volumes down the road because we never quit. We could’ve very easily quit and we could’ve very easily given in.”
Non-Conference Results Show Growth from 2011
Louisville closed out its non-conference slate this season with a 5-0 record. That mark is considerably better than last year’s 2-3 record, which included home losses to FIU (24-17) and Marshall (17-13) and a road loss at North Carolina (14-7). According to Strong, the Cardinals’ improvement in win-loss record and in close games is a direct result of the mental and physical growth of the team.
“A year ago we would’ve lost some of the close games we’ve had this year because of the maturity and the overall development of the football team — not believing they can win those games,” Strong said. “Now, the whole mindset is different because they think they can go win. The other night (at USM), we were down 11 points but not once did we ever think we were going to lose that game or that we were out of it.”
Fundamentals to be Emphasized During Bye Week
After five straight weeks of game preparation and game action, the Cardinals conduct the first of two bye weeks this season. Following a couple of close wins on the road in which the Cardinals weren’t as sharp offensively and didn’t tackle as well as the coaches expect, the bye week comes at a great time for the Louisville coaches to return to the basics on the practice fields outside the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex.
“Everything you address is fundamentals and the tackling goes in with the fundamentals,” said Strong. “On offense, the weather made us one dimensional, but you still have to block people and the quarterback still has to make the right reads. Overall, as a football team, we still have to improve. I told our defense that We’ve spoiled people around here because we have played good defense but now, all of a sudden, they don’t think we can play. We have managed to play well enough. You look at the last two games, we had the defense on the field for the last two drives of the game. Against Southern Miss, they stopped them and against North Carolina they stopped them. You just have to continue to improve.”
Unbeaten BIG EAST Teams Gaining National Attention
Despite what some pundits and members of the media declared during the offseason, BIG EAST football remains alive and well with three unbeaten teams in the national rankings this week. Ranked as highly as No. 16, the 5-0 Cardinals have non-conference wins over two BCS conference foes (Kentucky, North Carolina) and are joined by No. 21 Rutgers (4-0 record with a 35-26 win at Arkansas) and No. 23 Cincinnati (3-0 record with a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech).
“It’s always good to have a strong start because you draw praise from around the country and you draw the attention from everyone,” Strong said. “I said in August that there needs to be a team in this conference that can stand up and draw everyone’s attention and that people will respect. Right now, you have three teams that are ranked, so it goes a long way. With those three teams, if we can continue to play well, then at the end of the year, we will see where we end up.”