Wildcats, Cards playing guessing game

Charlie Strong isn’t the kind of guy who leaves things to

chance.

The coach charged with restoring Louisville to the glory of its

not-so distant past is a stickler for details, monitoring

everything from the number of available towels in the locker room

to where his players park their cars.

Strong’s meticulousness has instilled a renewed sense of

discipline at Louisville, keeping the Cardinals on their toes and

delighting a fan base turned off by the decidedly more relaxed –

and ultimately unsuccessful – approach of former coach Steve

Kragthorpe.

Still, after eight months of sweating the small stuff, even

Strong isn’t so sure about some of the big stuff, like what kind of

team he’s got on his hands heading into Saturday’s Governor’s Cup

showdown with Kentucky.

”I just don’t know who we are right now,” Strong said. ”We’re

searching for an identity.”

A certain air of mystery may not necessarily be a bad thing,

particularly for a team coming off its worst season since 1997.

Strong brings in a new coaching staff, one that features

Louisville’s fourth offensive and defensive coordinators in as many

seasons.

Former UNLV coach Mike Sanford will bring the spread offense he

perfected under Urban Meyer at Utah in 2003-04. Former Florida

secondary coach Vance Bedford will partner with Strong to help a

defense that ranked 91st in the country last year.

It has sent Kentucky coach Joker Phillips to the film vault

trying to figure out what to expect in a series the Wildcats have

dominated in recent years. Kentucky has won three straight over its

archrival, swinging the balance of power in the state firmly back

to Lexington.

”We’ve got to be mentally prepared for a lot of different

things,” Phillips said. ”It’s just been a pretty difficult team

to prepare for.”

Well, not entirely.

Phillips has spent enough time watching Strong’s talented

defenses at Florida have its way with the Wildcats over the last

seven seasons to know what to expect whenever Kentucky has the

ball.

”It’s going to be a blitz-o-rama,” Phillips said. ”He’ll be

blitzing as soon as he comes out of the locker room. It’s just what

they do.”

Even if the Cardinals won’t do it with the same kind of athletes

Strong had at Florida. That’s the least of his worries at the

moment.

He knows his teams lacks depth and size. He can work on that.

Right now, he’d like to see some confidence. It’s a rare commodity

in a program that has gone 15-21 since winning the Orange Bowl four

seasons ago.

”What these players have heard (for years) is ‘You’re not very

good, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,”’ Strong said. ”It’s

a confidence thing with them now because we have nothing to show

for it.”

The only way to get it is to win. Though the more experienced

Wildcats are a slight favorite, they have questions of their

own.

Can anybody else besides do-everything wide receiver Randall

Cobb catch the ball? Can quarterback Mike Hartline do more than

just manage the game? How will eight first-year players react while

playing in front of 56,000 mostly hostile fans?

”The biggest thing is how those guys are going to react?”

Phillips said.

It’s a question that’s not limited to Kentucky’s players. Though

Phillips has spent the last 24 years preparing to make his head

coaching debut, he knows things will be different when he walks

into Cardinal Stadium and sees his longtime friend on the other

sideline.

”I’m sure maybe Saturday morning I’ll be hugging the toilet

somewhere,” Phillips said.