LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Most college football teams fear playing on the road because of the roar of the opposing crowd and the travel. It's hard for a lot of teams across the country to put aside those distractions and play well on the road. However, the Cardinals have bucked the trend and played well on the road in the third season of the Charlie Strong era.
The Cardinals are 7-4 away from home in the last two seasons and have not lost a road game by more than nine points. However, after opening the season with three-straight home games, the Cardinals will be on the road for the next month, beginning on Saturday, Sept. 22, with a trip to Miami, Fla., to face FIU, which defeated the Cardinals at home last season.
"What's going to be critical for us is when we go on the road is we have to pack our defense and, defensively, we are going to have to play well," said Strong. "We've got to play well in the kicking game. The thing the kicking game does is it changes the field position for us, so we have to do a great job in the kicking game."
Strong knows his team has to be focused with a lot on the line. The Cardinals are 3-0 for the first time since the 2006 season, but are headed to the state of Florida, where they haven't fared well over the years.
"We have to be disciplined and do what we are coached to do," said Strong. "Then, play together. It's going to be critical. Anytime you're on the road, it's your togetherness because it's us against them. So, as a team, you have to play together. And it's going to be a great challenge for us. This next month is going to be a really good challenge for us. We are going to see just how strong of a football team we are and how well we can play away from home."
This trip is a little different because of the number of players the Cardinals have from the city of Miami. Louisville has 22 players that from the South Florida area, including six from Northwestern High.
The coaching staff has stressed the importance of continuing to build a strong pipeline through the Sunshine State, especially to south Florida, where Strong and his coaches have an abundance of connections.
"There are so many athletes down there in that state," said Strong. "A large number of them don't even get a chance to get looked at because there's just so many. We always feel like we have an advantage because they are coming from a city to a city. With the ties we have - we have so many guys on this coaching staff that have coached in Florida and recruited Miami. So, you already have a built-in relationship with the high school coaches."
Strong feels it will be good for the players to see familiar faces, but he wants them to focus on the task at hand.
"What's going to be positive is their families are going to be there, so at least we feel like we're going to have a little crowd because of the number of players we have from south Florida," said Strong. "But, one of the issues can be is that they are all going to want to see them and be around them. I have some time blocked out for them to see their families, but this is a business trip. We can't have that pleasure. When you have the time to go visit with them, then go visit with them. Still though, we've got to get on with our business too."
Senior tight end Nate Nord, who is tied for the team lead in receptions with 10, echoes Strong's sentiments about making this is a business-first trip and trying to push Louisville's record to 4-0.
"I think a lot of them are excited to see their family members, but at the same time, it's business," said Nord. "They know the most important reason they're going down there is to play a football game at the end of the day."
Louisville understands the importance of being dialed in against FIU, especially considering the amount of starters the Panthers boast on both sides of the ball.
"They return eight starters on offense. Their quarterback (Jake) Medlock is playing really well right now," said Strong. "He has not thrown an interception. They have a really good running game in (Darian) Mallary and (Kedrick) Rhodes. Both of those backs are doing a great job of carrying the football. Not only are they rushing with the ball, but they are doing a great job of coming out of the backfield and catching the football."
Strong added, "On defense, they return 10 starters. They have a very good defense. They do a good job of blitzing and mixing it up very well. You look at linebacker and (Winston) Fraser is doing a good job for them, a defensive end by the name of (Tourek) Williams and (Johnathan) Cyprien at strong safety."