LOUISVILLE, Ky. - University of Louisville football head coach Charlie Strong doesn’t know how to gauge his 19th-ranked football team early in the season despite two impressive wins to start the season.
However, the third-year head coach might find out pretty quick when the Cardinals play host to North Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 22, in a nationally televised contest on ABC.
“When you have a nationally ranked team, you like to say that you are a junior-senior team,” said Strong. “When you have a team you think is going to compete for championships, you would like to have a junior-senior team. We have only nine seniors, so we are still young, still maturing, and still growing. I really do not know what we are right now. If you look at us from week to week, we still have a lot of growing up to do.”
Despite coming off a 28-27 loss at Wake Forest last Saturday, the Tar Heels are an extremely talented and athletic football team. Under first-year head coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels are definitely one of the most dynamic and explosive offensive teams in the schedule.
“This weekend, we will find exactly where we are as a football team and steps that we need to continue to make to change his program and get it headed in the right direction,” Strong said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We’re excited about the challenge.”
The Cardinals and Strong are familiar with Fedora. Both Strong and Fedora spent two seasons on the Florida staff under Ron Zook. In Strong’s first season at U of L, the Cardinals defeated Fedora and Southern Miss, 31-28, in the 2010 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
The two teams are also familiar with each other after Louisville traveled to Chapel Hill and left with a 14-7 defeat. The Cardinals, who had a true freshman quarterback and three freshmen on the offensive line, couldn’t get on track on offense, gaining only 274 yards and missing two field goals in the first half.
“Last year, they shocked us watching them on film,” said junior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn. “We didn’t know that they were that big. Coach (Strong) was telling us that they were a big team. This year, we expect the type of talent they have on the offensive line and defensive line, so we should be ready.”
Dunn and the Cardinals’ defense will have to be on their game to face the potent North Carolina offense, which enters the game averaging 44.5 points per game and 476.0 yards of offense.
“They’re a zone-read team on offense and up-tempo,” Strong said. “Last year, they were more of a two-back power and try to just knock you off the ball cause they had big lineup who just come off and attack you.”
Dunn, who played against the Tar Heels last season, was asked if North Carolina’s offense was more dangerous than anyone on the schedule so far.
“Yes, it’s more dangerous,” said Dunn. “There are a lot more athletes on the edges. There’s a big, physical offensive line. There’s an experienced quarterback. I don’t know anything about their running back (A.J. Blue), but the one we faced last year is a solid running back (Giovani Bernard). It’s the head coach we played against at Southern Miss in the bowl game. It’s his offense. I heard coach (Clint) Hurtt yesterday preaching on how fast they are with the no huddle. So, it’s going to be a big challenge for us this week.”
But, Dunn knows this isn’t the same team as the one the Tar Heels faced last year. Louisville is a year older and wiser, and so far looks to be more experienced on both sides of the football.
“You see a difference in everybody’s demeanor and practice tempo,” said Dunn. “Everybody has a lot of confidence. A lot of people are getting a good feeling that we are a good team, and we are believing in it.”