LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
After spending 35 days away from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals finally can unpack for a while, as they will be home for the next three games, beginning Saturday when USF visits Louisville for a nationally televised contest on ABC.
Through its extended road trip, Louisville secured three-straight victories, including its BIG EAST opener last Saturday versus Pittsburgh. While the Cardinals didn't play their best football at times, they accomplished their main objective, which was to remain undefeated and win its first league opener in six years.
"It's going to be good to come back home to our fans," said head coach Charlie Strong. "If you look at our crowd at Pittsburgh, we had a really nice crowd up for them to travel up there to that game. It's good to always come back home to our place. I tell our players, now that we're home, we have to defend our home stadium."
Senior offensive tackle Alex Kupper also is ready to be back home after grinding out another win on the road.
"We got a good win on the road," said Kupper. "Now, we're coming back home for three games, which is exciting. But as a team, it was a really good team win. We're just excited to move forward."
After getting off to a slow start against Pitt, trailing 21-14, Louisville made a few critical plays late in the first half to get back on track. Despite the mistakes, Strong knows the most important thing was to stop a four-game losing streak to Pitt.
"It was good to get our first conference win this weekend, especially on the road in the environment in Pittsburgh against a team that had beaten us the past two years," Strong said. "We did not come out of the gates well in the beginning, but made a key play with a fourth down stop in the second quarter right before the half. We were able to get our offense the ball and Teddy (Bridgewater) connected with DeVante Parker down the sideline for a big catch and then we were able to hit a field goal."
The Cardinals took control of the game for good in the third quarter with a 21-point explosion, which included a career-long pass and catch from Bridgewater to Parker on the first play of the third stanza, the key to the comeback.
Alex Kupper, who spoke with the media Monday, has started all six games this season.
"In the second half, Teddy connects with DeVante again for a 75-yard touchdown pass and then our offense really got into rhythm," Strong commented. "Our defense then was able to get three stops in a row, giving up only 19 yards, but we would have liked to not have given up that touchdown at the end because we had played so well."
The Cardinals will get another league test this Saturday, when USF looks to post its second consecutive win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Bulls, who are 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in the league, are an experienced, senior-laden team, which always poses a threat to opposing teams. The Bulls took a 24-21 overtime win in 2010 - their first win in Louisville.
"We know that South Florida is going to be another challenge for us because they are a team that is extremely talented with a lot of seniors," said Strong. "We cannot lose our focus, we have to execute, and we have to finish. We know each game is going to be like this in this league."
The Bulls are led by senior quarterback B.J. Daniels, one of the most dynamic and dangerous playmakers in the league. However, USF has been plagued by turnovers, ranking 119th in the country in turnover margin, which is a tough stat for any team to overcome. The Bulls played Florida State tough and secured a road win at Nevada, showing they an extremely capable football team.
"If you look at South Florida, they have anywhere from 20-23 seniors and a lot of those seniors are fifth-year guys, so the talent is there," said Strong. "It is all about them playing together. Their quarterback, B.J. Daniels, runs and throws the ball very well, but what's key for them is playing and coming together."
Kupper, who will be making the start again against the Bulls, knows what kind of talent and athleticism USF has on both sides of the football, is ready for the challenge.
"They have speed all over the field top to bottom," said Kupper. "Even their interior guys are pretty quick off of the ball. It's always a challenge playing them. Their linebackers can move pretty well. It's just a challenge we have to be ready for."
Although Louisville - one of 12 undefeated teams at the Division I level - understands each game will present a challenge as the season progresses, the Cardinals appear excited to finally return to playing in front of the home crowd.