Dec. 20, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
Preparations are nearly complete before the University of Louisville football team takes off the next five days for the Christmas holiday.
The team returns to the Derby City on Dec. 26 and then departs for New Orleans, La., on Dec. 27 for the 79th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl against third-ranked Florida.
The Cardinals will practice for the final time at 9 a.m. on Friday before heading in separate directions to be with their families for the holidays. The team will practice Thursday morning before two planes will take the players and staff down to the "Big Easy."
Louisville started practice on Dec. 13 for its second appearance in a BCS bowl. It's the Cardinals' first BCS appearance since 2007, when they defeated Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.
"We are one day away from ending phase one of our practices on Friday," said head coach Charlie Strong. "We come back on Dec. 26. I wanted to give these guys some time to get home and get some rest. They have been practicing very hard. I've been very pleased with how they have been practicing. I'm very happy with the position we are in going to a BCS bowl game."
The month off has given the Cardinals a chance to heal and get some key players back. Louisville suffered multiple injuries toward the end of the season, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and was missing a key number of players on the defensive line.
"This is like the first game of the season," said Strong. "We played the last game on Nov. 29 and now you don't play again until Jan. 2 so we have had a month off. We have guys who were banged up a little bit, so now you have a chance to get a lot of them back in the lineup."
The Cardinals, who have struggled to stop the run, have been working hard to stop the Gators' strength, as Florida is one of the better running teams in the SEC. The Gators are averaging over 190 yards on the ground this season, and the Cardinals must step up and contain the Gators' strength, which is their power running game.
"It's all about getting lined up," said Strong. "It's going to be about tackling and their gap control. We know they like to run the football and we have to be prepared to stop the run. They are a physical football team and we need to be ready."
The Cardinals are big underdogs heading into this BCS contest versus Florida, but Strong and his staff have instilled into their players that they deserve to play in this game, and if they work hard and lock in, they have a big opportunity in front of them.
"What our players need to understand that we won 10 football games ourselves this year," said Strong. "We have a good football team. We respect that program because they were one game away from playing in the national championship game. Our players have to understand that we have worked hard to get in this position and now we have a chance to show people across the country just where this program is at."
Strong's career has come full circle in a three-year span. Three years ago, Strong was already hired at Louisville on Dec. 9, but still worked as the defensive coordinator for the Gators in the Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati in 2010. Now, three years later, Strong has his own program in the same bowl against his long-time employer in the Florida Gators.
"There are 12 teams that have the opportunity to be in a BCS bowl, and you are one of the 12," Strong said in a message he told his team. "It's a great opportunity for us. "I told them that they deserve to be there because they won the conference, and it does seem like it was just the other day I was there against Cincinnati. And now, three years later that I'm going back, but I'm on a different sideline."
And that other sideline, which gave Strong his first opportunity to be a head coach, will be facing one of the most storied programs in football. The Cardinals, though, aren't worried about history and appear poised for a showdown.