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