LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After beating Kentucky for the second-straight year in the Governor's Cup on Sunday, the University of Louisville football team took a moment to enjoy the victory after ensuring the cup remained in the city for another season.
The team - coaches and student-athletes alike - though, knew the celebration period would be short-lived with a quick turnaround and the need to focus on the Cardinals' upcoming opponent, Missouri State, which Louisville faces Saturday, Sept. 8, at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Even at Monday's press conference, one could sense that as elated as head coach Charlie Strong was to record the win over the Wildcats, he wasn't about to let his team experience the same disappointment last year's squad endured after beating UK, a 17-13 home loss to Marshall.
"You like to think that we're more mature now that we've played a lot of games," Strong said. "You can always go back to last season, and we beat Kentucky and we followed it up and got beat. We cannot allow that to happen and we're at home. Now, you have an opponent come in and you like to think that you don't have to go through it again."
When comparing this year's squad to last year's, it's pretty easy to see that the Cardinals have improved on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Teddy Bridgewater, who was still green in the face at this point last year, had a dynamic performance managing the game against Kentucky, completing 19-of-21 attempts for 232 yards. On the ground, Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright combined for 213 yards and four touchdowns. Defensively, Louisville forced three fumbles, tallied two sacks and had four tackles for loss. In the second half, the Wildcats were limited to just 31 yards rushing and only had two drives that went for more than 50 yards.
From an experience standpoint, Mario Benavides reassured the Cardinals have matured since 2011.
"There's not too much that I really do I have to do; guys don't really get out of line," the senior center said when talking about how to make sure the team stays focused. "Although we have a young group, we have an experienced group. You can have juniors and seniors on the team, but those juniors and seniors can be guys who haven't played. We have sophomores, freshmen and juniors - those guys are younger - but they have all played more than some other guys on other teams who are older.
"I don't really have to say much, especially this year. Guys seem to understand what it's all about now. The guys are well aware of what can happen when you get too fat and happy."
As Strong alluded to, he expects Missouri State to present another challenge for the 25th-ranked Cardinals.
"It is a team that has a spread offense - their quarterback (Ashton Glaser) transferred in from Missouri - so, they do a good job of throwing the ball around," Strong said. "You look at halftime against Kansas State, it was 9-6. But, then Kansas State got on track in the second half and ended up blowing them out.
"They return all starters on defense. Eleven starters coming back on defense. So, it will be a great challenge. Our challenge is going to be getting our players ready to go play. ... We have a short week. They have today off, which is Monday. We come back on Tuesday. We'll look at the film from Sunday's game and then get them going on Missouri State."
Even in spite of the Cardinals strong performance against the Wildcats, everyone associated with the program - from top to bottom - is well aware of the consequences of complacency. With Strong directing the charge, Louisville football appears determined to build upon the momentum of the season opener and experience nothing short of success.
The contest, which begins at 3:30 p.m. ET, will be televised on WHAS.