Sept. 9, 2013
The University of Louisville football team's expectations have definitely risen under fourth-year head coach Charlie Strong. Most years, after a 44-7 victory at home, there would be a party in the tailgate lot, but that wasn't the case this week.
While the Cardinals won handily over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, there wasn't joy emanating from the post-game comments. There is no losing the fact that the Cardinals won the game to move to 2-0 and seventh in the recent polls. However, Strong knows his team can play a lot better.
"The standards have been raised," Strong said. "The players understand now. In previous years, when you talked to them about improving, they really did not get it or understand it but now they do. When you show them the tape now they know when they played bad."
The Cardinals did some good things in the win, scoring 44 points and getting 397 yards passing from the arm of junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who also tossed four touchdown passes to give him nine for the year and tops in the nation. Junior wide receiver DeVante Parker totaled his third career 100-yard receiving game with five receptions for 134 yards and a pair of scores to give him 19 for his career, which is tied for third all-time in school history.
With all the accolades accompanying the passing game, the Cardinals recognized the need to run the football better. Totaling just 78 yards on 28 carries is definitely disappointing, especially for a head coach who prides himself on being able to run the football.
"We need to be more physical and more aggressive in the run game," Strong said. "Guys need to stay on their blocks and the backs need to run downhill. A lot of times it is not going to be blocked right but you have to run through a defender. We cannot let first contact get us on the ground. We have to make guys miss tackles and lower our pads and run through them."
Heading to Lexington on Saturday to face Kentucky, which secured the first win for first-year head coach Mark Stoops, the Cardinals will face a rival in a hostile environment. It's also the first road game for the Cardinals, who were 5-1 last season away from home.
Strong knows his team is in for a battle against an intra-state rival in front of 70,000 fans.
"We know the environment we are coming into," Strong said. "It is going to be a road game. We are going to have to pack our defense, pack our kicking game, pack our discipline and togetherness. We have to play a complete game for 60 minutes."
The Cardinals will be facing an offense that features two talented quarterbacks and an offense that racked up over 650 yards of total offense in last week's win over Miami (Ohio). Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow gave the Wildcats a two-headed attack. Smith threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, while Whitlow changed the pace with 48 yards rushing and one touchdown and threw for 103 yards.
"The challenges are you have two different quarterbacks or two different styles," Strong said. "(Maxwell) Smith and then you look at (Jalen) Whitlow. (Maxwell) Smith is more of a thrower and (Jalen) Whitlow is an athlete who can run and throw the football. They change them up. You look at the last game. (Maxwell) Smith started them off, then (Jalen) Whitlow came in. They went back and forth. Having two quarterbacks can create some issues for you if you don't get aligned."
The "Air Raid" system, which is how the Wildcats describe their offensive system, will be a challenge for the defense that will be forced to get up on the ball in a hurry after each play.
"Yeah, it is a lot of plays in a row but there are no excuses," senior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn said on Monday. "You have to get down and be ready to play. Actually, it is just a challenge. Last year against North Carolina, that whole week was crucial. Everything we did was fast. We even got water fast. I was just prepared and ready. I know the coaches are going to have a big day of practice for us Tuesday, so we are just going to be ready for that."
The Cardinals will have to be ready for the challenge of playing on the road against a rival in its own stadium. If they play up to Strong's high standards, then there will be plenty of smiles on the drive back to Louisville after the game.