Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 6

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On Tuesday, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong met with reporters for the final time in advance of the Cardinals’ showdown with Florida in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Cards and Gators will kick off on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., ET inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Louisville Offense to Run Through Healthy Bridgewater
During Tuesday’s press conference on the eve of the Cardinals’ second BCS bowl appearance, Strong provided an update on the health status of sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The 2012 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year is recovering from a broken left (non-throwing) wrist and a tweaked ankle suffered in the final two weeks of the regular season. Despite the injuries, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to the BIG EAST title clinching win at Rutgers on Nov. 29 and has been healing ever since.

“The last few weeks have really been to his advantage because now he’s been able to get healthy,” Strong told reporters on Tuesday. “Our game plan is all about Teddy and Teddy’s healthy now. I’m not saying he’s 100 percent, but he’s going to be better than he was in the Rutgers game.”

Cardinals Look to Get Physical with Gators
Having struggled in the running game during much of the second half of the regular season, the Cardinals will need to have success with its rushing attack against the stingy Florida defense. The goal for any team coached by Strong is to play physical and that begins with running the football effectively.

“You’d like to play physical. The only way you can play physical, you have to be able to run the football and Florida does a great job stopping the run,” explained Strong. “I think the last few games, we’ve not done a good job at all running the football. Since Senorise went down, Jeremy has carried most of the load, but it’s not all on Jeremy’s shoulder. We have to do a better job of blocking. In order to play football, you’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. That’s not what we’re doing right now.”

Sugar Bowl a Measuring Stick for Louisville
With only four seniors among their 22 starters on offense and defense, Louisville remains a very young football team. And with so many players set to return in 2013 from the Cardinals’ BIG EAST title winning and 10-win squad in 2012, expectations will be very high entering next season. For Strong and his team, that 2013 season starts with Wednesday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup.

“I always tell them this (bowl game) is the first game of next season and it shows us exactly where we are,” said Strong. “And now, you have a team that is a really good football team. We have to have a good showing in this football game because we need to know exactly where we are. It’s going to be a measuring stick for our program and it’s going to either show us how far behind we are or how much further we need to go.”

Memories of Gainesville Fond for Strong
With four different successful coaching stints as an assistant at the University of Florida, Strong has many special memories from his time in Gainesville. While winning two BCS national championships and numerous SEC titles, Strong built a highly impressive coaching resume with the success he enjoyed as a Gator.

“Well, I spent so many years there, it was a special time for me,” Strong said of his coaching career at Florida. “I think, when you start from the ’80s and the ’90s, I was able to work with every head coach in that program. It was a special — it was special times for me. I really put my career there. I had some great wins, great losses, but you always learn from it. I was able to develop and become a really good football coach because of my experience there.”

Notable Quotes…
“I think with the focus, even before we came to New Orleans, we started practicing in Louisville and they understand who they’re playing, they understand the bowl game. Now, they have a chance to get to a BCS Bowl game. The opponent, the University of Florida, speaks for itself. I don’t have to say much because a lot of these players on our team are from the state of Florida, so they know a lot of the players that they’re going up against. They understand it’s the University of Florida and it’s the Southeastern Conference and we’re in the Sugar Bowl.” — Strong on the team’s focus entering the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“What’s going to be key is not giving up the big play and being able to just stop the run.” — Strong on the key to Wednesday night’s game with the Gators.

“I guess it really hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t seen many of the players. Probably, when I walk into the stadium for the first time tomorrow night and look across the sideline, you see a lot of those players you were able to recruit. Then it kind of hits you. Once you hear the band rev up and play the different songs that you’re so familiar with — and we had a function last night, saw a lot of the administrators. It will be something special.” — Strong on the impact of coaching against Florida.

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