Press Conference Audio from CardsTV: Head Coach Charlie Strong | Mario Benavides | Alex Kupper
Following the final bye week of the season, Cardinals’ head coach Charlie Strong talked with reporters on Monday afternoon at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex to review last week’s activities and preview Saturday’s BIG EAST Conference home game against Connecticut (Noon ET, BIG EAST Network). After suffering a disappointing loss at Syracuse in its last outing on Nov. 10, No. 18 Louisville (9-1, 4-1 BIG EAST) used the off week from game competition to regain traction for the final two weeks of the regular season.
“The open week allowed our coaches and players to rest mentally and physically,” Strong said. “What we were able to do was just turn our attention just to the small details. We were able to execute at practice. What’s important now is we have two games left. This is a two-game season and our players understand that.”
That two-game season begins with the visit from a Connecticut team that earned its best win of the season in a 24-17 victory over Pittsburgh on Nov. 9 leading up to its final bye week last weekend. The Huskies, led by second year head coach Paul Pasqualoni, enter this week’s game at 4-6 overall and 1-4 in league games. The win over the Panthers halted a four-game losing skid for UConn, which needs the win to keep its bowl hopes alive.
“We have Connecticut, a very physical football team,” explained Strong. “They love to run the ball on offense, so it’s going to be a great test for our defense to see if we can go stop the run. They are a team on defense where they apply a lot of pressure. The big guys up front don’t do a lot, but they just want to win at the line of scrimmage. On special teams, we have to make something happen. All year long we haven’t been able to do anything on special teams, but we’ve got to get that done. With this football team right now, it’s all about our focus and our preparation. We control our own destiny from here out. It’s not what anyone is going to do to us. It’s what we are going to do to ourselves. The key right now is our effort and our preparation heading into these next two games and just making sure we are mentally and physically locked in.”
Louisville to Honor Senior Class on Saturday
Prior to this week’s game, the Louisville football program will say goodbye to 13 seniors (10 scholarship). The senior class has enjoyed a 27-21 record during their four years in the football program and have enjoyed three-straight winning campaigns. The list of the seniors who will be playing their last home game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium includes Mario Benavides, Daniel Brown, Adrian Bushell, Bo Eggers, Stephen Goodwin, Nick Heuser, Alex Kupper, Nate Nord, Scott Radcliff, Andrell Smith, Will Stein, DeMarcus Topp and Chris Zelli.
“Saturday is going to be senior day, and just appreciate what they’ve done,” Strong said of this week’s game. “If you look at this senior class, three-straight bowl games. Last season, we were co-champions of the BIG EAST. You think about (Will) Stein, you think about (Alex) Kupper, you think about Mario (Benavides), Andrell (Smith), (Scott) Radcliff – those guys on offense have played their best football. Then, on defense with Daniel Brown having an injury early, (he) may be able to play these next games. If he’s not able to play against Connecticut, he will be ready for the Rutgers game. Then, with (Adrian) Bushell playing the way he’s played. But this senior class – when we came in, we talked about our foundation. I just feel this group is a part of us because they’ve been with us for three years and they have been a part of watching this program build. You cannot ask for a stronger group of seniors with the leadership they have provided this season.”
Wright, Lamb to be Featured in Cardinals’ Backfield
With the loss of junior running back Senorise Perry to a torn ACL in the loss at Syracuse, the Cardinals have been forced to reshuffle the backfield rotation for the final two games of the season. After splitting time with Perry as the Cardinals’ featured ball-carriers, junior Jeremy Wright is expected to take on more of the workload this week against the Huskies while sophomore Corvin Lamb will assume the role as Louisville’s No. 2 running back option. Behind those two is junior Dominique Brown, who has not seen any game action this season due to injuries, but is now healthy and could be a third running threat if needed.
“Jeremy Wright is going to be the starter,” said Strong. “Corvin Lamb has been taking repetitions. If we have to use Dominique Brown, we will. We want to go win a (BIG EAST) championship. We’ll go with Jeremy just because he has the experience and he is going to play as much as he can. A lot of times, with the running back, you do need to give him a rest. We are going to feel very comfortable when Corvin goes into the game.”
Bye Week Comes at the Right Time for Louisville
After winning a school record nine straight games to open the season, the Cardinals struggled through its worst performance of 2012 in the 45-26 loss at Syracuse. The defeat was followed by the bye week, which according to Strong, came at a perfect time for Louisville. With the Cardinals’ goal of winning a BIG EAST title and earning a BCS bowl berth is still within reach, step one was moving on from the loss to Orange and refocusing for the final two weeks.
“It came at a great time for us,” Strong said of the bye week. “You’re looking at a football team that is still 9-1. What we wanted to do in the bye week is get that game is behind us. The Syracuse game is behind us. Get that game away and then just focus on the next two. Just focus on ourselves and making ourselves and this football team better.”