Sept. 26, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and senior defensive tackle Greg Scruggs met with reporters on Monday to preview this week's home game against Marshall. The Cardinals and Thundering Herd will kick off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in a game televised locally by WHAS-TV.
Following a bye week for the Cardinals last weekend, Strong talked to reporters about the progress of the team in the week of practice after the 24-17 road win over Kentucky on Sept. 17 and the return to game action this week.
"The week off was much-needed and it gave our players a chance to enjoy the win over Kentucky," Strong said. "Plus, we have a lot of bumps and bruises, so it gave guys a chance to get into the training room and get healed back up. It gave our coaches a chance to evaluate where we're at after the first three games. Now, we're heading into a nine-week schedule."
The emphasis during the week of practice was improving in the three phases of the game. From offense to defense to special teams, Strong and his coaching staff worked specifically on improving the fundamentals and becoming more effective as a group.
"Offensively, we have to do a better job of running the football," he said. "In order for us to win in this league and in order for us to win these next few games, we have to be able to run the ball. We have to be able to control the line of scrimmage. When we get into the red zone, we need to score. We also need to control the tempo and the rhythm of the game where our players play fast ... do their jobs and play faster. Those are just some of the things we need to offensively.
"Defensively, we have to get turnovers and we have to be able to stop the run. Offensively, we want to run the ball, but defensively we want to stop the run and not give up the big plays. If we don't play from behind on defense, then I think we have a good chance because we can pressure the quarterback. And in special teams, we have to do a better job of covering downfield and returning kicks. We also haven't been able to break a big run yet."
Now, the Cardinals turn their focus to game preparation against non-conference foe Marshall. The Thundering Herd enter the weekend at 1-3 overall following a 30-10 home loss to No. 11 Virginia Tech. MU opened the season with a 34-13 loss at No. 24 West Virginia and followed that with a 26-20 home win over Southern Miss and a 44-7 loss to Ohio. This will be the 28th meeting all-time between Louisville and Marshall with the Cardinals holding a 16-11 lead in the series.
"Marshall is going to be a big test for us," said Strong. "I know their head coach (Doc Holliday) well because he and I coached together at the University of Florida. Doc does a good job of recruiting and does a good job of coaching that football. This is going to be a good test for us and we have to play well. I feel like we're going to have some excitement because of the Kentucky win and now we're coming back to our stadium. We have to play better at home. We haven't played very well here and we need to do that."
Many of the questions from Monday's press conference was related to the Cardinals' running game. Louisville has used three primary backs this season - senior Victor Anderson, sophomore Jeremy Wright and sophomore Dominique Brown, who is also listed as the Cardinals' third-string quarterback. After not getting the kind of production they wanted from their running game in the first games of the season, the Cardinals finished with a 181-35 advantage on the ground in the win at Kentucky and were led by Brown's 91 yards on 14 carries, both career highs.
"You'd like to improve each game in your production," Strong said. "When you look at the three backs that we have in Vic, Jeremy and Dominique, I would like to see us get a 100-yard rusher and then continue to improve each week running the football. To do that, we have to be able to block people and our backs have to do the job. You're not always going to block everyone, so our backs have to be able to run behind their pads and run through tacklers sometimes. They haven't been able to break a long run either. Vic has enough speed to break a long one and Jeremy has enough speed to break a long one. Dominique is a different type of back because he's more of a bruiser who can run through people.
"You'd like to see one of those guys emerge as the (No. 1) back. Last season, we had that guy in Bilal Powell and we knew who he was. We'd like to see that happen now where one of these guys becomes the back. All of the guys are going to play, but we would like to say 'hey, this is the main back and this is the guy you have to stop.'"
Another key question related to the Cardinals' injury situation. Though Louisville does not release specific injury information on players, Strong did talk about the health of a few key players entering the Marshall game.
"You have guys like Mario (Benavides), (Will) Stein, Andrew Johnson, (John) Miller who are all improving. Will they be back this week? We'll know more as the week progresses and how they move and perform in practice."