LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
From here on out, the University of Louisville football team will be in a one-game playoff. Each game is a must-win if the Cardinals are going to reach their goals of another BIG EAST title and the school's second BCS Bowl appearance.
If the Cardinals are going to get where they want to be, they have to continue to take care of business, and the first order of business is a visit from Cincinnati on Friday night at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium at 8 p.m. The Bearcats have defeated Louisville each of the last four seasons and won three of the last four BIG EAST titles.
"Cincinnati is a well-coached football team and Butch Jones has done a good job with them," said head coach Charlie Strong. "It's going to be an exciting match-up. It's going to be another one-game season for us. The way we look at it, we are going to take it one game at a time, and Cincinnati is the next game. We have to improve one defense. We have to improve on offense and on special teams."
Since Strong has arrived at Louisville in 2010, the Cardinals have dropped both contests to the Bearcats despite entering halftime with a lead. The Cardinals led 24-21 at half in Papa John's Cardinals Stadium before falling 35-27 in 2010. Last season, the Cardinals held a 16-7 lead at the break, but were shut out in the second half in a 25-16 defeat.
"Our team really respects Cincinnati," said Strong. "We haven't beaten them in the last two years and they know who they really are, and it's a respect factor within our football team."
Lorenzo Mauldin, one of the players who spoke Monday, had three tackles for loss in the win over USF.
This is probably the biggest home game for the Cardinals since 2006, when they hosted an undefeated West Virginia team in front of a national television audience, so Strong knows the magnitude of Friday's game for the program.
"We know this is a big game for us this week," said Strong. "I told the team the other day this is only the third time in school history where we have been 7-0. We haven't been undefeated since I've been here. We haven't been in the conference race. We just talk about being a one-game season, and let's just continue to play. But this is a big game; it's a big game for the program."
The Cardinals escaped with a dramatic 27-25 win over USF on Oct. 20. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed an eight-play, 75-yard drive and hit Eli Rogers with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 to play, as the Cardinals had to come back for the fourth-straight game.
Louisville trailed 25-21 after the Bulls scored with 3:09 left in the game. The likelihood looked very bleak for the Cardinals to extend their winning streak to seven games until Bridgewater and the offense went to work for the winning score. Bridgewater was 5-of-7 on the final drive and had one of the biggest runs of the game when he scrambled for 11 yards and was the benefactor of a late hit.
"When USF scored, Teddy (Bridgewater) told me we were good," said Strong. "Coach (Dave) Borbely said if we protect the quarterback, Teddy will make the throws. If you protect Teddy, he has enough progression where he is down the field and he is always moving. Our offensive line did a great job on that drive and our receivers caught the ball."
The Cardinals did protect Bridgewater on that drive, and the sophomore quarterback helped protect the Cardinals' perfect season so far.