Oct. 10, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and senior defensive end William Savoy met with reporters on Monday to preview this week's road game at rival Cincinnati. The Cardinals and Bearcats will kick off on Saturday at noon at Paul Brown Stadium, and the annual showdown for the Keg of Nails will be televised by the BIG EAST Network and WHAS-TV.
Strong started his weekly news conference by addressing the details and the status of assistant coach Mike Sanford, who was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator prior to last week's game at North Carolina.
"I just want to clear the air because I know this has become a hot topic, but there was no physical or verbal confrontation between Mike Sanford and myself," Strong said. "We are both professionals and are very mature. We've been in the business a long time. There are going to be arguments. There are going to be disagreements. I respect Mike. I respect him as a person. I respect his character. I respect who he is. But, the decision I made at that time I thought was in the best interest of this program for us to move forward.
"It is just like you in your business, you in your profession - people are reassigned all of the time and I just felt that it would make our team better and it would make our program better. We just want to move forward with it. Mike is still a part of this staff. I have not reassigned him a role yet, but he will be a part of this staff. Our task right now is that our concentration is on Cincinnati. What we have to do is try to find a way to go win a game on the road."
Louisville enters its BIG EAST opener at 2-3 overall following a 14-7 loss at North Carolina last Saturday, while Cincinnati is 4-1 overall after a 27-0 win at Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 1 and an open date last weekend. The Bearcats have won three straight in the series, including a 35-27 win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last season.
"Cincinnati is an outstanding football team," Strong said. "Offensively, they return five starters. They are very (multi-faceted) on offense. Their quarterback (Zach) Collaros can manage their offense. He has done a better job this year of scrambling, getting outside and throwing the football. They've got some outstanding receivers in (Anthony) McClung and (D.J.) Woods. The running back (Isaiah) Pead, if you remember last year, went for over 140 yards rushing against us. We have to tackle better in this game.
"If you look at Cincinnati on defense, they return 11 starters. They are a really good defense. They do a good job of attacking. They blitz like us. They blitz a lot. They are third in the country in turnovers. They are getting a lot of turnovers; a ton of interceptions. It is going to be a task for our offense."
For the Cardinals, one of the glaring issues in their recent two-game losing skid has been penalties. Louisville was flagged 20 times for 169 yards in the losses to Marshall and North Carolina and that must be an area of improvement for the Cardinals to get back on the winning track.
"The thing that has really been our Achilles' heel is penalties," noted Strong. "When you look at it, I think over the last four games we are at nine penalties a game. It is either a penalty on defense that allows an offense to drive the ball, or offensively, we are getting stopped because we are not able to continue to drive the ball down the field. That is what we need to do - we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. That is what we are doing with all of these penalties right now on offense. I know this - we have some injuries, but it's still no excuse."
Another area that is of major concern right now for Strong and his coaching staff is the Cardinals' running game. Louisville is averaging only 116 yards per game on the ground and will next face a Bearcat defense which ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing defense allowing only 71 yards per game.
"At the running back position, we haven't had a runner yet go over 100 yards," said Strong. "We have to do a better job of rushing the ball. What's happening to us offensively is people are able to load the box because we are not running the ball. It is making us one dimensional and we have to throw the ball. Now, they are bringing a lot of pressure and that is where you are getting the sacks and pressure from."
Saturday's game begins the Cardinals' BIG EAST slate and is an opportunity for the Cardinals to start a new season of sorts. Despite the non-conference losses, Louisville still has a chance to find success in 2011 and that could start with this week's game against a long-time rival.
"Overall as a football team, each week, we have to work on team chemistry and who we are," Strong said. "Guys have to work together and have to understand that now is a whole new season for us. We are going into conference play. Now, each game counts. It all counts now. It's all about us. If we just stop getting self-inflicting penalties - it may be offensively and defensively, giving up the big play on defense and start just running the ball on offense - if we can get those things done then, we have a chance. That is what we have to do if we want to go win this football game."