Cardinals’ coach Strong likes team’s mental focus

Louisville coach Charlie Strong has been pleased with his team’s

mental focus this month and expects it in Sunday’s season opener

against Ohio.

Facing a Bobcats team that upset Penn State in last year’s

opener and has won consecutive bowl games should keep the attention

of the ninth-ranked Cardinals. Strong enters his fourth season with

high expectations after an 11-2 finish and a Sugar Bowl upset of

Florida.

Louisville’s preseason ranking is the highest ever. The

Cardinals have been picked to win the new American Athletic

Conference – formerly the Big East, which they’ve won the past two

seasons. Living up to those lofty hopes means taking every opponent

seriously, especially an Ohio team capable of pulling off another

opening-game surprise.

”You have to approach everybody the same,” said Cardinals

junior center Jake Smith, adding that the coaching staff has

reminded players of Ohio’s big win.

”You can’t think that just because they went and beat a big

team that they’re going to come beat us. We want to go win every

game. They’re a good football team, and we have to prepare as

such.”

The coach said he feels good about Louisville’s prospects. The

Cardinals seemed intent on building off last season’s success

almost immediately after their 33-23 victory against the Gators

became final.

However, Strong added, ”We’ve got our work cut out for

us.”

Louisville’s veteran roster features 19 starters back including

12 on defense. Leading the offense is junior quarterback Teddy

Bridgewater, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate after passing for

3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.

The Cardinals’ backfield will include a familiar face in senior

Senorise Perry, whom Strong picked as the starter in a three-way

competition including transfer Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown.

Dyer rushed for 1,000 yards in both seasons with Auburn while

leading the Tigers to the 2010 national championship.

”When we trot out there with the first play, Senorise will trot

out there with the first offense,” said Strong, crediting

Louisville’s training staff and Perry’s dedication for helping him

return nine months after a season-ending knee injury.

Though Perry will start, Strong said all of the Cardinals’ backs

including sophomore Corvin Lamb would be involved against Ohio and

that he hopes to find his main ball carrier from that group.

Louisville’s defense meanwhile will try to stop an Ohio offense

that ranked 27th last season in rushing at 203.3 yards per game

thanks to senior Beau Blankenship, who rushed for a school-record

1,604 yards and 15 TDs. He’s among 16 returning starters on a

Bobcats squad favored to repeat as the Mid-American Conference’s

East division champion.

”We’ve been focusing on him the whole summer,” Louisville

linebacker Preston Brown said of Blankenship.

The Cardinals also will have to contain Bobcats senior

quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who passed for 2,844 yards and 18

touchdowns. Ohio was also good with takeaways, ranking seventh in

turnover margin at +1.15 in 2012.

In many respects, Ohio might be the opponent the Cardinals need

to remind them not to dwell on last year’s success. In a new league

that has added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Temple to the

schedule, Louisville faces some unknowns in its lone AAC season

before heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.

Fortunately for Strong, it’s not an issue because of an

experienced roster that has resulted in players being mentally

locked in during practices this month, hungry to back up last

season’s results.

”I’d probably say it’s the most focused team I’ve had because

it’s also a much older team,” said the coach, adding that winning

the Sugar Bowl has provided many benefits. ”They understand that

they really have to work now because the level of expectations has

risen. They want to set the standard for the program and know how

to manage those expectations.”