Louisville’s seniors have a simple reason for wanting to win
Saturday’s home finale over Connecticut.
It hasn’t been done in a while.
A victory would be the seniors’ first in three tries under coach
Charlie Strong. The No. 19 Cardinals (9-1, 4-1 Big East) can also
achieve double-digit victories for the fourth time in school
history, all since 2001.
Staying within reach of league-leading Rutgers entering next
Thursday’s showdown in New Jersey adds more motivation for one of
the nation’s smallest senior classes. Louisville has 13 overall and
just 10 on scholarship, and half of them began their careers as
Since going 4-8 as freshmen they’ve had three straight winning
seasons and seek the school’s second BCS bowl bid along with a
successful home send-off.
Though Strong’s staff didn’t recruit this group, he recognizes
the groundwork they’ve laid for younger classes.
”When we came in, we talked about our foundation,” Strong
said. ”I just feel this group is a part of us because they’ve been
with us for three years and they have been a part of watching this
program build. You cannot ask for a stronger group of seniors with
the leadership they have provided this season.”
Left tackle Alex Kupper said Strong’s philosophy that the
hardest workers would earn playing time allowed his classmates to
seize their opportunity. He earned his scholarship after a year and
a half and has started every game the past two seasons, playing at
each position along the offensive line.
”The guys that stuck around, that’s just what we’re bred for,”
Kupper said. ”We wanted to fight through it. We wanted to see it
turn around and, ultimately, it has.”
The seniors’ steadiness, coupled with young stars such as
quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, sprung Louisville to a 9-0 start
before falling 45-26 at Syracuse on Nov. 10. The loss ended
Louisville’s hopes of a perfect season but not its preseason goal
of a Big East championship and accompanying BCS berth in the Orange
A win over Connecticut (4-6, 1-4) – which needs two wins to
become bowl eligible – would set up a de facto conference title
game at Rutgers just five days later.
”There’s still more to go get,” said wide receiver Scott
Radcliff, who earned his scholarship after three years as a
walk-on. ”Hopefully we can get to that Orange Bowl. Just to go
there – I (would) never forget that.”
Kupper wants his class to be remembered for returning the
program to the heights of the 2006 season that ended with a 24-13
Orange Bowl win against Wake Forest.
”That team was the team,” the Louisville native said. ”To be
in that position, to be maybe the team that generations behind us
talk about, that’s really special.”
Saturday’s game will be played amid rumors that Louisville and
Connecticut are the leading candidates to replace Maryland in the
Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terrapins and Rutgers announced
earlier this week that they will join the Big Ten in 2014.
The Cardinals will be without leading rusher Senorise Perry, who
tore his right ACL against Syracuse and is out for the remainder of
the season. Jeremy Wright will pick up additional carries after
previously splitting the feature back role with Perry. Freshman
Corvin Lamb will spell Wright against Connecticut’s 11th-ranked
rushing defense (107.6 yards per game).
Both teams are coming off bye weeks and the Huskies’ mood is
looking up after getting their first Big East win two weeks ago
against Pittsburgh. A postseason game is only possible by knocking
off the ranked Cardinals on Saturday and Cincinnati next week.
”It’s the only motivation we have at this point,” tight end
Ryan Griffin said. ”We’re holding on and we’re a desperate team.
We need these last two wins to get to a bowl and make this season a