The 14th-ranked Cardinals won their BIG EAST Conference opener last week at Pittsburgh and are set to return home for the first time in more than a month when they host USF on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., ET at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville head coach Charlie Strong reviewed the win over the Panthers on Monday afternoon during his weekly press conference at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex.
“It was good to get our first conference win this weekend, especially on the road in the environment in Pittsburgh against a team that had beaten us the past two years,” said Strong. “We did not come out of the gates well in the beginning but made a key play with a fourth down stop in the second quarter right before the half. We were able to get our offense the ball and Teddy (Bridgewater) connected with DeVante Parker down the sideline for a big catch and then we were able to hit a field goal. In the second half, Teddy connects with DeVante again for a 75-yard touchdown pass and then our offense really got into rhythm. Our defense then was able to get three stops in a row giving up only 19 yards, but we would have liked to not have given up that touchdown at the end because we had played so well.”
This week’s Homecoming game with the Bulls (2-4, 0-2), which will be televised regionally by ABC, will be the Cardinals’ first home game since the win over North Carolina on Sept. 15. After playing three straight on the road, including last week’s league game at Pitt, Louisville (6-0, 1-0) will begin a stretch of three straight BIG EAST games at home with Saturday’s matchup.
“We know that South Florida (USF) is going to be another challenge for us because they are a team that is extremely talented with a lot of seniors,” Strong told reporters. “We cannot lose our focus, we have to execute, and we have to finish. We know each game is going to be like this in this league. This league is very competitive with three undefeated teams including us, Cincinnati and Rutgers. Temple is also playing well with their win over Connecticut. We cannot worry about what is in front of us and we know we have to take each game at a time and this week we have to focus on South Florida.”
Halftime Speech Says It All
The Cardinals’ 45-35 victory at Pittsburgh last weekend certainly didn’t come easy as they had to overcome a 21-17 halftime deficit to win their BIG EAST opener. Following the halftime break, Louisville scored 21 straight points in a dominant third quarter to gain command for good. Whatever was said in the U of L lockerroom at Heinz Field by Strong and his coaching staff worked perfectly in turning the game in the Cardinals’ favor.
“You do not want to hear the halftime speech,” Strong said on Monday. “I told them that we have not played well and we can play better than we have. I told them that we cannot lose our focus and what we have to do is get back on track offensively and defensively. We have to get stops and get the ball back to our offense. That is not what we were doing in the first half. On Pittsburgh’s first drive, we had them to third down and their quarterback scrambles and we get beat on a corner route. That is just not acceptable. On offense, we wasted two timeouts and we were not in tempo. Let’s get the call and get to the line and run the play. There was no energy, and I told them we have to get it going here in the second half.”
Bowl Eligibility Arrives Early for Cards
After working into November to find bowl eligibility during Strong’s first two seasons at the helm, Louisville clinched a post-season berth much earlier in 2012 thanks to the perfect 6-0 start. In his first season in 2010, the Cardinals clinched a bowl berth with a win in the regular season finale (Nov. 26) at Rutgers, while last season, Louisville earned its sixth win on Nov. 19 in the 11th game of the season. However, being eligible for a bowl is not what the Cardinals are talking about.
“It feels good, because the last few years it has taken us to one of the last games to get bowl eligible,” said Strong. “It feels good that we are playing so well. We are not even talking about just being bowl eligible; we are focused on the games we have remaining, and we know everything else will take care of itself.”
Perry’s Move to Running Back Proves Beneficial
In 2010, Senorise Perry spent most of his freshman season providing depth on the Cardinals’ special teams units. However, he did get a chance to play defensive back in a home game with Cincinnati when injuries left Louisville thin at that position. After struggling in the defensive backfield, Perry asked for a chance to play running back and the coaches listened. The move has proven to be a good one as the junior has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games and three times overall this season, while at Pitt, he became the first Cardinal to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Michael Bush did it in 2005.
“Two years ago, we put Senorise in at defensive back after Johnny Patrick went down against Cincinnati and we could not get him to get up on the wide receiver,” Strong said. “When he came off the field, he said, ‘Coach I would like to go play running back.’ So, we decided to give him a shot there because we were looking for help at running back after Bilal (Powell) left. Jeremy Wright had gotten an injury in the spring, so we decided to put Senorise back there and he ran the ball very well against our defense. To see him go there with a four-touchdown performance and break off that 59-yard run was great. He is so fast that, if he gets a step on someone, he can out run them, plus he runs behind his pads and runs through defenders.”