Press Conference Audio from CardsTV: Head Coach Charlie Strong
A very familiar foe returns to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Friday night when long-time rival Cincinnati visits 14th-ranked Louisville for the annual showdown for the Keg of Nails. In a battle of BIG EAST Conference leaders in front of a national television audience (ESPN, 8 p.m., ET), the Cardinals and Bearcats will meet for the 52nd time on the gridiron in a series that dates back to 1922. UC has gotten the best of the series recently winning four straight, including a 25-16 victory last season in Cincinnati.
“Cincinnati is a well-coached football team and Butch Jones has done a good job with them,” said Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. “It’s going to be an exciting match-up. It’s going to be another one-game season for us. The way we look at it, we are going to take it one game at a time, and Cincinnati is the next game. We have to improve on defense. We have to improve on offense and on special teams.
“Our team really respects Cincinnati. We haven’t beaten them in the last two years and they know who they really are, and it’s a respect factor within our football team.”
Louisville (7-0, 2-0 BIG EAST) and Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0) are joined by Rutgers (7-0, 4-0) as the only three BIG EAST schools without a loss in league play so far in 2012. The Cardinals are off to their best start since 2006, when they opened with eight straight wins en route to their first ever BIG EAST title, an Orange Bowl win and a 12-1 record overall. Though the Cardinals will take the same approach into this week that has helped them open league play with back-to-back wins, they also realize the importance of the game in the continued resurgence of the program.
“We know this is a big game for us this week,” Strong said. “I told the team the other day this is only the third time in school history where we have been 7-0. We haven’t been undefeated since I’ve been here. We haven’t been in the conference race. We just talk about being a one-game season, and let’s just continue to play. But this is a big game; it’s a big game for the program.”
Rushing Defense to be Tested by Bearcats
In last weekend’s win over USF, the Cardinals allowed 197 yards rushing to the Bulls and they know that is an area that must improve this week. Cincinnati enters Friday’s game ranked 16th in the nation and No. 1 in the BIG EAST in rushing at more than 225 yards per game. Senior George Winn paces the Bearcats at 101.2 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry.
“We gave up a lot of yards rushing to South Florida and it was all about us not being gap-sound,” said Strong. “We just weren’t taking care of our responsibilities. We had a lot of guys jumping out of gaps. You have to be able to get off of blocks. If you can do that, you can stop the run. You’re going to have to load the box at times and get another safety in the box to tackle the ball carrier.”
Motoring Mauldin Makes Impact for Louisville Defense
One member of the Louisville defense who has made a big impact during the last two weeks is defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin. The sophomore had six tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss, to go with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry in the win over USF to earn BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Weeks on Monday. In the last two games, Mauldin has registered 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the Cardinals’ wins over Pittsburgh and USF.
“As hard as he plays in a game, he goes just as hard in practice,” Strong said. “He only knows one speed and he goes hard all of the time. He’s exciting to watch and the last two weeks, he’s played extremely well. He’s one of those guys that can really turn it on. He can really rush the passer.”
National Rankings Not a Concern for Strong
Despite being one of just 11 unbeaten teams in the nation entering this week’s game, the Cardinals are ranked no higher than 14th in either of the two major national polls and are positioned at No. 16 in the latest BCS standings. However, Strong is much more concerned with whether his Cardinals can continue to do what’s needed to win games rather than where Louisville fits in any of the national rankings right now.
“I tell our guys that at the end of the season, let’s see where we end up,” Strong explained. “Right now, if we start worrying about the rankings, then all of sudden you go get beat and you’re not ranked anymore. Let’s just continue to get better and worry about our next opponent. I place no value at all on the rankings and we don’t even talk about it.”
Game Information: Louisville (7-0, 2-0) vs. Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0)
When: Oct. 26, 2012 – 8 p.m. ET
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000), Louisville, Ky.
TV: ESPN – Carter Blackburn (p-x-p), Rod Gilmore (analyst) and Jemele Hill will broadcast the game live.
Radio: The Louisville Sports Radio Network with Paul Rogers (p-x-p), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline) calling the action
Series Record: UC leads 29-21-1
In Louisville: UC leads 13-9-1
Last Meeting: Cincinnati 25, Louisville 16 – 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 14th in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and 16th in the latest AP Top 25; Cincinnati is receiving votes but unranked in both polls.