No. 19 Louisville wary of winless Southern Miss
Louisville coach Charlie Strong has watched Southern Mississippi struggle from afar this season.
He's surprised the traditionally strong program hasn't won a game this fall. And that might be what scares him the most.
''You try to not look at a team's record because I just know this: they're going to be sky-high for us,'' Strong said.
No. 19 Louisville (4-0) travels to face Southern Miss (0-3) on Saturday night at Roberts Stadium in a matchup of former Conference USA rivals. The Golden Eagles still have the all-time series lead, but the Cardinals have won the past five games in the series dating back to 1999.
The two schools dominated Conference USA in the late 1990s and early 2000s, combining to win seven of nine league championships from 1996 to 2004.
Strong has Louisville rolling again in his third season as head coach. Led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals have an explosive offense that's scored at least 28 points in all four games.
Bridgewater, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound sophomore from Miami, has turned into one of the nation's most accurate quarterbacks. He's completed 91 of 124 passes (73.4 percent) for 1,049 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
The defense hasn't been perfect, but it's done enough to win games.
''With us being into the program three years, it's our football team,'' Strong said. ''The toughness is there and it's everything you're looking for. Those games we were losing by seven last year, we're winning by seven this season. Now that you've had them in your program, they understand how to compete. They're playing with confidence and that's what you like about this football team.''
Southern Miss is exactly the opposite. It's been a struggle for first-year coach Ellis Johnson, who inherited a team that finished with a 12-2 record in 2011 and won the Hawaii Bowl.
The Golden Eagles returned a fair amount of talent, but have been bad on both sides of the ball, losing the first three games by double-digits. The latest setback was a 42-17 loss at Western Kentucky, which dropped Southern Miss to 0-3 for the first time since 1976.
Starting quarterback Chris Campbell (neck) and backup Anthony Alford (knee) were both knocked out of the game with injuries, and it's likely that third-string quarterback Ricky Lloyd will make the start against Louisville.
Lloyd is a redshirt freshman who completed 4 of 5 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown late in the Western Kentucky loss. He'll try to resurrect an anemic passing game that ranks just 116 out of 120 teams in Football Bowl Subdivision with 136.3 yards per game.
Johnson said the quarterbacks - whether it's Campbell, Alford or Lloyd - haven't been great so far this season, but refused to blame them for the slow offensive start. He said all three were progressing very well considering none of them had started a college game before this season.
''I really think it's more the play around them rather than the play of them,'' Johnson said. ''I'm saying all that to say this: we have complete confidence in Ricky Lloyd.''
Louisville also has some problems - though they're not nearly as severe. The Cardinals' defense has struggled in recent victories, especially against North Carolina, when the secondary surrendered 363 passing yards.
''We are not playing up at the level that we were playing in the spring during camp,'' safety Hakeem Smith said. ''There are a lot of guys that are new to this and I guess we have to realize that we are 4-0 and need to step it up.''
But there's little doubt the overall trends in Louisville are good. Now the Cardinals would like a complete performance - and a victory, of course - as they prepare to head into the bulk of their Big East schedule.
''What we have to do is just make sure we maintain our focus and not get caught up in the emotion of the game,'' Strong said. ''Just maintain and stay level-headed, play with confidence and compete.''
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