Archive for December, 2012

December 31, 2012

Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 4

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On Sunday, Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and selected members of the Cardinals’ defense met with reporters to preview Wednesday’s showdown against Florida in New Orleans in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Florida Offense Confident, Explosive
The Florida offense has improved throughout the season and enters the Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup with Louisville coming off a strong performance against Florida State. In the 37-26 win over the Seminoles, the Gators scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, the most FSU had surrendered in the fourth quarter at home dating back to at least 1996. Florida rushed for 244 yards on 47 carries (5.2 avg.) and scored three touchdowns on the ground against an FSU defense which had been giving up just 70.6 yards per game. First Team All-SEC running back Mike Gillislee led the way against the Seminoles With 140 yards on 24 carries (5.8 avg.) to take his season totals to 1,104 yards rushing on 235 carries (4.7 avg.).

“They play with a lot of confidence,” Bedford said of the Florida offense. “The offensive line is big and athletic. I think right now the quarterback position, they’re playing better. You could see the confidence building every single game. The receivers are starting to step up. They’re making plays and did an outstanding job versus Florida State. And Gillislee is playing lights out, so we’re very concerned about that running game.”

Gators’ Attack Starts Up Front
The success of the Florida offense begins up front with a talented group of offensive linemen. And it’s not just a group of five guys either as eight different offensive linemen have started games this season and 11 linemen have seen game action. Left tackle Xavier Nixon is the most experienced Gator on the offensive line with 32 starts for UF. The Cardinals’ defensive front will be tested in trying to close down running lanes and pressure the Gators’ passing attack on Wednesday.

“They remind me a little bit of North Carolina,” Bedford said of the Florida offensive line. “North Carolina was big. They were strong. They were athletic. And they can get their hands on you, they present a problem. They do a variety of things on offense. They run power games. They run spread games. So you have to play great technique up front. That’s why we have to move up front. We have to bring linebacker, defensive backs which is what we do already. It’s going to be a major problem. And when Mike gets the ball in his hand, there’s no telling what can happen.”

Decision to Leave Florida for Louisville Not Easy for Bedford
When Charlie Strong accepted the head coaching job at Louisville following the 2009 season, Bedford had just completed his second season on the coaching staff at Florida. While with the Gators, Bedford worked closely with Strong in guiding the UF defense, so it came as no surprise when he was offered the defensive coordinator position by Strong on his first Louisville team. However, the decision on whether to accept the offer was not an easy one for Bedford, whose association with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer goes back many years. In the end, it was Bedford’s close relationship with Strong that helped him make his final decision, one that has certainly worked well for the Cardinals.

“You know, it really wasn’t, because Urban wanted me to stay with him,” said Bedford on whether the decision to join Strong was an easy one. “Sitting down and talking to my wife, it was tough to make that decision. I’ve known Charlie for a while as I’ve known Urban. I knew Urban when he was a wide receiver coach at Colorado State with Earl Bruce. We go way back. It was an opportunity and a change for me to go out and do different things. I told Charlie, ‘you’ve been an outstanding defensive coordinator for a long time in this league. For me to come and work for you as a defensive coordinator, I’m going to lean on you and trust you.’ He’s been there the entire time with us. That’s one of the reasons why we’re playing great defense. He’s a guy I can go to: What do you think about this, what do you think about that? So we rode together, we’re on the same page together, because of that we’re sitting here today.”

Louisville Train Continues Rolling in 2012
Prior to the 2011 season, Bedford made headlines in Louisville with his energetic “get on the train” speech during the Cardinals’ media day activities. It was an electrifying talk on the future of the Louisville football program and a not-so-subtle urge for fans and media to get on board with what Strong was doing with the Cardinals. That speech became a topic of discussion during Sunday’s media activities with reporters when Bedford was asked to review those comments less than 18 months after his declaration.

“Well, we’re sitting here right now in New Orleans. I think it’s rolling pretty good,” Bedford said. “Because we are ahead of what anyone ever expected us. Who in the country expected us to be sitting right here in the Sugar Bowl, to be in the Sugar Bowl game. It’s heading in the right direction. We have the young talent. We’re a junior/sophomore team. On defense, we only have one senior that’s starting. On offense, we have three seniors that are starting. You’re talking about a young football team, so the future’s ahead of us. And what Tom Jurich has done — he’s moved us into the next era, the era of the ACC. Everything we’re looking for as a coaching staff, as a football team, Tom Jurich has brought to the table for us, so we’re excited to be where we are right now.”

Notable Quotes…
“The sky’s the limit for this team. It’s a bunch of young guys, a bunch of hungry guys. And we have a bunch of coaches who are ready to take it to the top.” — Cornerback Adrian Bushell on the future of Louisville’s program.

“You got to really stay on your toes because you really have to stay on the quarterback. He may run and decide plays quickly, and if he makes you miss like he’s done in a couple of games, you’ll be down for a while.” — Linebacker Preston Brown on Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

“We are using this as motivation to show the world what we can do. People are giving Florida a 93 percent chance of winning and that makes us want to show the nation what we can do versus an SEC opponent.” — Defensive end Marcus Smith on the Cardinals’ mentality of being an underdog.

“Yeah, we are having a real good time seeing the city of New Orleans. Coach [Charlie] Strong stresses to us when it’s time to work, you work and when it’s time to have fun, you have fun.” — Defensive end Marcus Smith on being in New Orleans.

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December 30, 2012

Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 3

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On Saturday, Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and selected members of the Cardinals’ offense met with reporters to preview Wednesday’s matchup with Florida in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Character, Football IQ Set Bridgewater Apart
The rise of sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater among the nation’s top signal callers has been impressive to watch. Whether it’s been leading the Cardinals to one of their numerous fourth quarter wins this season, or playing brilliantly through multiple injuries in Louisville’s come-from-behind win at Rutgers to clinch a BCS berth, the 2012 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year has exhibited terrific leadership and poise. Everything he does on the football field starts with who he is away from the field.

“From day one, he’s been a great student of the game,” Watson said of Bridgewater. “Because of his understanding of the game and what we do conceptually, he understands football and it goes slow for him. He’s a great decision-maker. He can create in and out of the pocket. He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached. He’s a very talented young man. And he has great character to go along with it.”

With so much talent and ability to go with his outstanding work ethic and football IQ, Bridgewater’s skill-set has allowed the Louisville coaches more flexibility in the way they prepare their game plans. It adds an increased level of responsibility for Bridgewater, but as he has shown so efficiently this season, he is more than capable of handling those duties.

“We put a lot on our quarterback,” Watson explained. “We run a pro-style offense, so he has to make a lot of decisions for us in every aspect of the game. He gets us in the right play at the line of scrimmage many times. He fixes our protection at the line of scrimmage. And he makes pass decisions. Really, he’s a coach on the field. It’s been remarkable for me. I’ve been doing this 30 years and coaching this position for 20 of those 30 and I’ve never had a guy who could do so much so early. He just has a high football intelligence that goes along with his competitiveness. He sees himself succeeding in everything he does, so we put a lot of responsibility on him.”

Florida Defense Defined by Talent, Skill
The Gators have hung their hat on defense this season, limiting the opposition to 283.4 yards of total offense. Florida is stout against the pass as the Gators have registered 19 interceptions this season led by four from Matt Elam. The Gators have allowed just 155 points this season, an average of only 12.9 points per game.

“They have great talent all across the board and they have depth,” Watson said in talking about the Florida defense. “That tends to lead to success and what they do schematically is very good. They can rush four guys. They don’t have to bring a lot of pressure on you because they’re so good up front and they have lock down people on the back end. Their safeties are good coverage players. Their linebackers can cover, so they have every piece defensively that you could ever want.”

Elam Leads the Way for Gators’ Defense
Elam, a junior defensive back from Palm Beach Gardens, leads the Florida defense. The First Team All-American is second on the team with 65 tackles, including a game-high 10 at Tennessee and team-best seven vs. LSU, when he forced a game-changing fumble in the third quarter. He has 10.0 tackles for loss, five pass-breakups and a team-high four interceptions after a pick in Tallahassee in the win over Florida State.

“I’ve watched him play in every one of their games and in those, you see what a great player he is and you appreciate his style of play,” said Watson of Elam. “He’s a very physical player. He can cover. He embodies everything you want in a player at that position. He’s a guy that can wreck a game for you, so we have to account for him. He’s an excellent football player. The staff there at Florida does a great job of using him and putting him in positions to execute for them. He’s come up with several big plays. He does it all and he’s a great player.”

Sunshine state Recruiting Key to Cards’ Improvement
Any coach will tell you that recruiting is the key to the success of a program. And with the Louisville football team’s return to the national spotlight has been the successes on the recruiting trail. Led by head coach Charlie Strong’s experience coaching and recruiting in the talent-rich state of Florida, the Cardinals have welcomed a large number of highly athletic and highly skilled players from the Sunshine State during the last three seasons and their impact on the team’s success is noticeable.

“It’s been huge for us,” Watson said of recruiting in Florida. “Charlie, with his background and with a number of our assistant coaches being from Florida and having experience recruiting the state, there are a lot of strong ties with our staff to the high school coaches and that community of coaches down there. We have 34 players that are from Florida and those kids are the ones that have turned around our program.”

Notable Quotes…
“(Florida) recruited me as a quarterback, but I actually wanted to play wide receiver.” — Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on his prep recruitment by Florida.

“In games like these, you don’t try to put an ‘S’ on your chest or a cape on your back. You just take what they give you.” — Bridgewater on whether his approach changes in a game like the Sugar Bowl.

“Elam is obviously a huge part of their defense. He’s an All-American. He’s in on every single tackle. He’ll be a player that I know Teddy will be watching a lot.” — Center Mario Benavides on the impact of Florida defensive back Matt Elam.

“He’s definitely a players’ coach. When there’s a problem, we can go talk to him. He cares for us as players and he looks out for what’s best for us.” — Running back Jeremy Wright on Cards’ head coach Charlie Strong.

December 29, 2012

Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 2

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In head coach Charlie Strong’s third season with the Cardinals, he has taken the UofL program to its highest level since 2006. When 18th-ranked Louisville takes the field against No. 4 Florida on in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night, the program will be making its second BCS bowl appearance overall and first since winning the 2007 Orange Bowl. With the Cardinals playing in such a grand spotlight like the one offered by the Sugar Bowl, motivation shouldn’t be an issue for the Louisville players.

“It was good to bring (the motivational tactics) up, but if you’re not motivated for this game, something is wrong with you,” said senior fullback Nick Heuser. “Just walking in the Superdome today, the coaches made us stop and look around. This is what we work for, this is a big time game and we’re turning into a big time program. We’re motivated.”

Arriving in New Orleans and practicing for the first time inside the massive Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday afternoon helped remind the Cardinals of what they’ve accomplished this season. Two of the key goals for this team were to win a BIG EAST title and earn a spot in a BCS bowl game and now, the goal is to close out this memorable season with a win.

“It was a great feeling,” said junior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn on walking in the Superdome for practice. “It was like ‘okay, we’re here, so let’s go take care of business.’ We’ve come a long way and we’ve battled through lots of ups and downs. We’ve reached where we wanted to get to, now let’s finish it.”

Cardinals Work Hard in Friday’s Session
Louisville practiced for more than two hours inside the Superdome on Friday and the session was highlighted by a very aggressive pace. With kickoff still several days away, the Cardinals expect to have a few more intense practices in New Orleans before they get into the final stages of preparations for the Gators.

“We will taper back early next week, but these next couple of days are important,” said senior offensive lineman Alex Kupper. “They’re important for getting our legs going a little bit and getting the game plan in place.”

Gators’ Running Game to Test Louisville Defense
On the offensive side of the ball, Florida running back Mike Gillislee is one of the top runners in the country, averaging 92.0 yards per game. The Gators have punished their opponents on the ground this season, averaging 194.5 yards per game and while tallying 21 scores on the ground. With such a strong emphasis and a high level of success coming from the running game, the Cardinals be tested in slowing down the Gators’ attack.

“Hopefully, not much more because that will mean our front seven is taking care of the job,” said senior cornerback Adrian Bushell when asked if he expected his role in the run defense to increase. “But, if it comes down to it, I’m ready. This is a good team and they’re going to make a few plays, but we have to step up and hold them to three.”

December 28, 2012

Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 1

The Cardinals landed in New Orleans on Thursday to continue their preparations for the 2013 edition of the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Crescent City. When head coach Charlie Strong leads his No. 18-ranked Louisville team onto the field inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 2 (8:30 p.m., ET, ESPN), he will do so against a familiar foe in No. 4 Florida.

Strong established himself as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches while leading the Gators’ defense from 2003 to 2009. That stint in Gainesville took him to 27 seasons as an assistant coach and was highlighted by two BCS national titles. Carried by his dominant stint in Florida, the Arkansas native was awarded his first head coaching opportunity at Louisville following the 2009 season and that turned out to be the perfect timing for Strong and the Cardinals.

“When you talk about being a head coach, it’s all about it being the right job,” said Strong during Thursday’s press conference in New Orleans. “A lot of times, we want it to happen right away and it didn’t happen for me right away. But I’m so glad when it did happen because I’m at the right place right now. It happened at the right school. I’m so happy Tom Jurich and Dr. (James) Ramsey gave me that opportunity at the University of Louisville.”

Strong Influenced by Previous Gator Coaches
When reviewing his ascent as one of brightest defensive minds in the nation, Strong pointed to his time in Gainesville as the key point to that rise. And more specifically, he placed much of the credit to his success on the experience he gained while working for an impressive collection of highly successful head coaches at Florida.

“I look at the University of Florida and that’s where my success really started at,” said Strong. “I was a part of two national championships, but even more than that, I look at the coaches I had an opportunity to go work for. I started with Galen Hall and then I had a chance to go work for Coach (Steve) Spurrier. Then I was able to work for Ron Zook and then from there to Urban (Meyer).”

Loyalty to Players Pivotal to Strong
Strong continues to be asked about his decision earlier this month to remain at Louisville despite an offer to be the head coach at the University of Tennessee. With an impressive coaching resume highlighted by dominance as an assistant in the SEC’s Eastern Division, the opportunity to coach the Volunteers appeared to be a perfect fit for the Cardinals’ third year head coach. However, his loyalty to the players he recruited and the goals he has for Louisville outweighed any upside offered by the historically successful Tennessee program.

“The reason I had the opportunity was because of the players I have,” explained Strong. “When you start thinking about leaving, you think number one about the players. The position I’m in right now is because of the way our players play. I talk to them all of the time about trust and I talk to them about commitment. I talk to them about making a commitment to the program and a commitment to us as a coaching staff. When I went to recruit these young men, I said to them ‘this is going to be a process. It’s going to take us a while to go get that program turned.’ I said ‘you just got to stay with me.’ Now, I had an opportunity to leave and I just couldn’t walk out.”

Curfew in Place for Cardinals in NOLA
The city of New Orleans is well-known for its nightlife and entertainment value. And that reputation can serve as a major distraction for players if not managed properly. Having made multiple Sugar Bowl appearances as an assistant at Florida, Strong plans to use a curfew to help curtail any temptations the Louisville players may have in the days leading up to kickoff.

“We’ll have a curfew every night,” Strong said. “I haven’t really talked to (the players) about it yet, but there will be a curfew. I told them to enjoy the experience right now because they deserve it as a team with the way they’ve worked so hard. It’s also all about business too. We’re not trying to see how many hurricanes we can consume or how late at night we can stay out. It’s still a business trip for us.”

December 26, 2012

Cardinals Return to Louisville; Next Stop New Orleans

Following a four-day break for the Christmas holiday, the 18th-ranked Louisville football team will reconvene on Wednesday to resume preparations for the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Florida. The Cardinals and Gators will kick off on Thursday, Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m., ET inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Following a morning practice session in Louisville on Thursday, UofL will travel to New Orleans on a team charter flight that afternoon to begin its on-site prep in Louisiana. The Cardinals are tentatively scheduled to practice on Friday (Dec. 28) and Saturday (Dec. 29) at the Superdome, on Sunday (Dec. 30) at the New Orleans Saints Practice Facility and on Monday (Dec. 31) back inside the Superdome. The week will also include numerous press conferences, news interviews and Sugar Bowl events for the Louisville players and coaches.

Starting with the team’s arrival in New Orleans on Thursday, the “In the Huddle” blog will have a daily notebook reviewing the Cardinals’ activities. Complete day-by-day coverage of Louisville’s preparations for the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl, including feature stories, video interviews, practice highlights and photo galleries, will be available at GoCards.com. Click here to visit the GoCards.com Sugar Bowl Coverage Index.

December 24, 2012

Mercedes-Benz Superdome: Home of the Allstate Sugar Bowl

The 2013 matchup between No. 18 Louisville and No. 4 Florida will mark the 38th straight year the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has served as the host facility for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. One of the world’s most famous stadiums, the Superdome has provided the stage for some of college football’s greatest teams and most memorable moments.

About the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
When Alabama defeated Penn State in 1975 in the Superdome, the game launched a new era for the Sugar Bowl, one that has tracked through more than three decades of legendary games, coaches and athletes, and one that projects well into the foreseeable future.

In October, the Superdome wrapped up the most recent round of renovations since Hurricane Katrina – an $85 million effort capped by the unveiling of the eye-catching lighting capabilities which make the building an even more vivid highlight of the Big Easy skyline. This brings the total amount spent on renovations to $336 million since 2006.

The Superdome stands as one of America’s architectural marvels and has now emerged as Louisiana’s most recognizable landmark. In August, 2005, the whole world saw what happened here when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. The image of the Superdome with its torn roof, surrounded by flood waters, was a lasting one.

Now that image has transcended into a symbol of the recovery of the city-the rebuilt Superdome with its gleaming white roof and its fabulous night-time glow poised on the threshold of downtown. Those who doubted that it could be done-that the Dome and the city could come back-now see a 9-acre round billboard that has a clear message. The Superdome and New Orleans are back big time.

Following the biggest rebuilding project ever attempted in a major stadium, Sept. 25, 2006, has become a significant date in the history of an historic city. The reopening of the Superdome, with the Saints playing on Monday Night Football, launched a citywide celebration. It was watched by millions on television and provided a lifetime memory for everyone who was present.

They discovered a new Superdome sporting a fresh look with contemporary color schemes, dazzling graphics, state-of-the-art LED video boards and scoreboards, hundreds of flat-screen TVs, bigger and better concession stands, and remodeled suites and reception rooms. The work on the upgrades continued through the 2011 off-season.

The reopening of the Superdome began a successful run of sports and entertainment unprecedented in New Orleans, before or after Hurricane Katrina, with Sugar Bowls, Allstate BCS National Championships, the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Fours and an NFL Super Bowl.

The Sugar Bowl has played a vital role as it has for several decades, attracting visitors and national media to the city and keeping New Orleans in the minds of millions.

December 23, 2012

Sugar Bowl: Sunday Notes & Quotes

Strong Says Louisville Deserving of Sugar Bowl Spotlight
When the 18th-ranked Cardinals take the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 2, they will do so against a highly regarded and No. 4 ranked Florida squad. The Gators are 11-1 with their only loss coming against rival Georgia in a closely contested 17-9 showdown in late October. UF has four wins over ranked opponents this season, including an impressive 37-26 win at then-No. 5 Florida State in the regular season finale. With so much national attention on Florida, Louisville coach Charlie Strong has made it clear to his talented and youthful Cardinals that they have earned their opportunity to compete on the BCS stage at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“What our players have to understand is that we’ve won 10 football games ourselves and that we have a good football team,” Strong told reporters last week. “We’re going to respect that program because they were one game away from playing in the national championship game. Our players have to understand that ‘you know what, you’re in this position and you’ve worked hard enough to be in this position. Now, you have a chance to show everybody across the country just what this program is.'”

Cardinals’ Underdog Role Not a Surprise
Though he knows his BIG EAST champion Louisville squad is deserving of its opportunity to compete in the program’s second BCS bowl, Strong has not been surprised to see Florida as the favored team by most college football experts in the 79th edition of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators’ impressive 2012 resume combined with the program’s high level of success during the last 20 years helps explain their popularity going into the Jan. 2 matchup.

“They’re going to say that just because of who we are and because of the respect they have for Florida,” Strong said of the media around the nation. “Florida is in the Southeastern Conference and we’re in the BIG EAST Conference. I tell (our players) all of the time to not worry about that because you have to play the game. At the end of the day, we will see where we’re at when the game is over.”

Emphasis for Bridgewater Centered on Improving
Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has emerged this season as one of the nation’s most talented signal callers, and after his performance at Rutgers, he is likely one of the toughest. The 2012 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year put up impressive statistics passing for more than 287 yard per game, 25 touchdowns and completing 69 percent (267-of-387) of his throws while playing all 12 games. With his highly successful campaign, his NFL stock has risen significantly and he has emerged as one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft despite having two years of college eligibility remaining. But don’t expect the humble and team-oriented Bridgewater to be distracted or misguided by his NFL potential.

“We really don’t talk about that,” said Strong in response to whether he talks with Bridgewater about his NFL preparations. “He’s a sophomore and he still has a lot of football left. He still has a lot of football to learn. He can still grow and get a lot better. He’s a young player and what you want to do with a young player is make sure they’re locked in. A lot of times when you start talking about this kind of potential or you can go here, guys get so focused on it that they forget where they are right now.”

Louisville Earns Another Strong Finish in the Classroom in 2012
Since being hired as the Cardinals’ head coach prior to the 2012 season, Strong has placed a great emphasis on succeeding academically. That emphasis has hit home inside the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex as Louisville enjoyed another tremendous fall semester in the classroom, capped by 10 current and former Cardinals earning their degrees and participating in the UofL commencement ceremony on Dec. 14.

“Our grades (in the fall semester) were unbelievable and our guys did a great job,” said Strong. “Last Friday night (Dec. 14), we had 10 players graduate, so the guys understand what this program is all about. You know you come here to get a degree. You come here to win football game. You come here to be a better person. It was great to see our players walk across that stage.”

December 22, 2012

Sugar Bowl: Saturday Notes & Quotes

Cardinals Complete Phase I of Sugar Bowl Prep
On Friday, the 18th-ranked Louisville football team conducted its final pre-Christmas practice session in preparation for the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl. After going their separate ways for a four-day holiday hiatus, the Cardinals will reconvene on Dec. 26 before traveling to New Orleans the following day where they will continue the countdown to their matchup with No. 4 Florida at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Jan. 2/8:30 p.m., ET/ESPN).

“We ended phase one of our bowl camp on Friday and we’ll come back on the 26th (of December),” explained Strong. “What I want to do is give these guys time to get home and get some rest. We’ve been working very hard and I’ve been very pleased with the way we’ve practiced. We will come back on the 26th, practice on the morning of the 27th and then get on the plane and go to New Orleans.

“We’re happy to be in the position we’re in with a chance to go to a BCS bowl game. It’s an outstanding job that this football team has done and a credit to how hard they’ve worked all season long.”

The Cardinals’ team headquarters will be at the New Orleans Marriott, while all practice sessions will be held at either the Superdome or at the New Orleans Saints practice facility.

Lengthy Layoff Allows Louisville Players to Heal
With more than 30 days between the Cardinals’ regular season finale at Rutgers (Nov. 29) and the showdown with the Gators (Jan. 2), the Louisville players have taken advantage of the added time off to rest and heal from the grind of the week-to-week season. Strong told reporters on Thursday that aside from running back Senorise Perry, who is out with a season-ending injury, no other Louisville players were held out of practices this week due to injuries sustained during the regular season. Having so many healthy players in practice has made the Sugar Bowl prep feel more like fall camp.

“It is like the first game. We played our last game on the 29th of November and now you don’t play again until January 2nd, so you have a month off,” Strong said. “It’s like fall camp where you get here in August and you don’t play that game until the first week of September, so you have guys that have been injured and banged up a little that you have a chance to get back.”

Emphasis on Gators in Early Practice Sessions
Prior to opening their Sugar Bowl preparations, Strong and his coaching staff told reporters they expected the December practices to serve as an opportunity for many of the Cardinals’ first and second year players to gain increased reps. However, Strong said this week that those chances have been limited due to the team’s early emphasis on preparing for what they’ll see across the field from a highly talented group of Gators.

“Our focus has been on Florida, so we haven’t had much time with the young players,” said Strong. “We do give them some reps, but really, we don’t have enough guys where we can go scrimmage with the young players. It’s all about the preparation for Florida.”

December 21, 2012

Sugar Bowl: Teddy Bridgewater Notes

Bridgewater’s Health Improving Daily
Head coach Charlie Strong met with reporters following Thursday’s practice session inside the Trager Center and provided an update on the health of Cardinals’ sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Despite suffering a broken left (non-throwing) wrist against UConn on Nov. 24, the Louisville signal caller performed at a very high level in leading the Cardinals to a 20-17 BIG EAST Conference title clinching win at Rutgers just five days later. With more than 30 days off between the regular season finale at Rutgers and the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Strong and the Louisville training staff believed Bridgewater would have ample time to recover.

“Teddy is practicing and doing very well,” Strong said. “It’s a day-by-day process with him and he’s not completely well yet. I think as we continue to go through these next few days, I think he’ll have enough time to heal up.”

Captain Comeback
Players are defined on what they do in the fourth quarter of close games, and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been better than anyone in the final stanza. Bridgewater has led five drives in the fourth quarter that has given the Cardinals the lead or tied the game.

  • Trailing 17-15 in a driving rainstorm against Southern Mississippi, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a score with 5:35 left to win 21-17.

  • USF led Louisville 25-21 with 3:09 to play. He led an eight-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with an 11-yard pass to Eli Rogers with 1:35 left to give the Cardinals a 27-25 win.

  • With the score tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati, Bridgewater connected with DeVante Parker on a 64-yard pass to give the Cardinals a 31-24. Louisville went on to win 34-31 overtime.

  • The Cardinals trailed Connecticut 10-3 until Bridgewater hit Parker with 21 seconds to send the game into overtime.

  • Tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter against Rutgers, Bridgewater led a drive that culminated with a 29-yard field goal by redshirt freshman John Wallace in a 20-17 win over the Scarlet Knights.

Bridgewater Efficient in the Passing Game
Thanks to a 69.0-percent completion percentage and 161.62 passing efficiency this season, teams must certainly be on the lookout for Teddy Bridgewater in the passing game. Bridgewater currently ranks fifth in school history with 458 career completions and is already eighth with 5,581 yards. He is first all-time in career completion percentage, completing 67.1 percent of his throws.

Bridgewater’s pass efficiency rating this season ranks eighth in the country and he is one of three underclassmen in the top 10. Bridgewater is one of only nine quarterbacks in the country with a rating of over 160.0.

Cardinals to Face Nation’s Best Pass Defense
The Cardinals might have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, but he and the Cardinals will face a huge challenge against Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Gators have the nation’s top-ranked pass efficiency defense. Florida is allowing 186.4 yards through the air and has given up just five touchdown passes.

Bridgewater is completing 69.0 of his throws this year and will face a Florida defense that allows a 51.2 completion percentage and is tied for sixth in the country with 19 interceptions. The Cardinals, who are averaging 298.6 yards through the air, will face a defense that hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer all season and a high of 257 yards versus Tennessee.

December 20, 2012

Sugar Bowl: Charlie Strong Notes

Strong Named AFCA Regional Coach of the Year
After a 10-2 regular season and a second-straight BIG EAST championship, University of Louisville head coach Charlie Strong was named one of the American Football Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year, the AFCA announced. Strong, who has guided the Cardinals to a 24-14 record in three seasons, led the Cardinals to their first 10-win season since 2006 and the school’s second BCS Bowl game. The Cardinals will square off against Florida in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl on Wednesday, Jan. 2 in New Orleans, La. Competing in the postseason for the third-straight year, Strong earned Region 1 honors for Coach of the Year recognition. The Cardinals raced out to a school-best 9-0 start before dropping two-straight games. Louisville clinched a share of their third BIG EAST title with a 20-17 win on the road at Rutgers. A native of Batesville, Ark., Strong led the Cardinals to consecutive 7-6 campaigns in 2010 and 2011 before compiling his best record this season.

Strong in the Sugar Bowl
Head coach Charlie Strong will make his fifth trip to the Sugar Bowl, but it will be his first as a head coach. Strong was 2-2 as a coach with the Florida Gators. In his last game as a member of the Florida staff before taking the Louisville job, Strong and the Gators blasted Cincinnati 51-24 in 2010. The Gators lost to Florida State 23-17 in 1995 and defeated West Virginia 41-17 in 1994. Florida also lost to Notre Dame 39-28 in 1992.

Strong in Close Games
In his three seasons at Louisville, Charlie Strong is 10-10 in games decided by seven points or less after a 20-17 win at Rutgers on Nov. 29. Louisville is 6-1 under Strong in games decided by seven points or less this year. After a pair of blowout wins to start the season, Louisville secured a five-point win over North Carolina and a four-point win against Southern Mississippi. Louisville gathered a two-point win over USF, a three-point overtime victory over Cincinnati and the three-point win over Rutgers.

Louisville was just 1-4 in 2010 in games decided by seven points or less with the only win coming in the 31-28 win over Southern Mississippi in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. Strong was 3-4 last season after a 31-24 loss to NC State in the Belk Bowl.

The Cardinals are 4-7 in games decided by seven points or less at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Oct. 26 win over Cincinnati was Strong’s third win in a close game since a 39-34 win over North Carolina.

Louisville is a perfect 2-0 during Strong’s three seasons at Louisville in games decided by two points or less.

Strong Notches Third Straight Winning Season
Entering its 94th season of football, the University of Louisville now has four coaches who have started their coaching careers at Louisville with three straight winning seasons. Bobby Petrino (2003-06) and John L. Smith (1998-2002) were the last two head coaches to post three straight winning seasons in their first three years on the job until head coach Charlie Strong became the fourth with a win over USF. Lee Corso (1969-72) was the other coach to post three consecutive winning seasons to start his career. Corso, Smith and head coach Charlie Strong also won league titles during their first three seasons.

Strong Remains Loyal to Louisville
Charlie Strong met with reporters on the morning of Dec. 6 at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex to announce that he had turned down an offer from Tennessee and will stay with the Cardinals.

“This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my 29 years of coaching,” Strong told reporters. “I thought back to the first hours I talked to Tom Jurich. I remembered how he trusted me and how he was committed to leading the Cardinals back to a conference title, a BCS bid and hopefully, one day, a national title. He gave me my first chance to be a head football coach after being an assistant for 27 years. His unwavering loyalty in me and my vision has always been there. We haven’t finished the job yet. My enthusiasm and heart are with the University of Louisville.”

The 18th-ranked Cardinals (10-2) won a share of their second straight BIG EAST Conference championship and a BCS berth in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they’ll face No. 4 Florida (11-1) on Jan. 2 in New Orleans. Though coaching Tennessee would have allowed Strong become a head coach in the Southeastern Conference, he decided to stay at the school that gave him his first head coaching job. Strong is 24-14 in three seasons with the Cardinals.

“I’ve been to the SEC and I’ve had a chance to go win two national championships,” said Strong. “You look at those jobs and there are some really good jobs out there, but I have a great job here. I have a great person that I work for.”