Louisville coach Charlie Strong didn’t engage in that coach-speak dialect that makes the next opponent, in this case 0-3 FIU, sound like an amalgamation of Alabama and Oregon.
But during Monday’s American Athletic Conference coaches conference call, Strong used “respect” several times in describing how No. 7 Louisville would approach Saturday’s game with the Panthers. While FIU tries to maintain confidence, Strong answered how Louisville avoids overconfidence.
“The key for us is we always look at the last game and go back to what we need to improve upon from the last game,” Strong said. “Our players understand I always want them to respect any opponent. If you’re not prepared or your focus is not there, you can very easily lose a football game. We want to make sure get ourselves ready. And not that we’re about the opponent so much, but let’s make sure we compete and compete at a high level.”
If Louisville wants to impress the BCS computer, with an overall schedule generally not considered as tough as others desiring a national championship game berth, the Cardinals need fat, impressive wins. Though Louisville’s a 42-point favorite, the largest margin among games involving two Football Bowl Subdivision games this week, Strong said a win with brassy style wouldn’t be in his plans.
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“No, I respect the game too much,” Strong said. “When you’re playing an opponent, they put just as much work in as you do, so we’re never looking to go out and just style-point anyone. We have to play our best and make sure we improve as a team, and we always have to respect our opponent.”
FIU’s next opponent doesn’t have to look at the video to know the Panthers’ struggles. They just have to text their high school pals, check Twitter or Facebook status updates.
Overall, 18 players who went to high school in Miami-Dade County and 39 who went to high school in Florida pack Louisville’s roster. Go through the roster in numeric order and seven of the first 11 players are from Miami-Dade, one is from Palm Beach Gardens and one more from Bradenton.
Last year shaped up as a blowout, with FIU’s porous pass defense against touchdown pass mass producer Teddy Bridgewater, playing in front of his hometown fans. Instead, FIU took a 14-7 lead as starting quarterback Jake Medlock sustained a foot injury, fell behind 28-14 in the second half and lost 28-21 as backup quarterback E.J. Hilliard completed 9 of 10 passes.
Two years ago, FIU scored on a Winston Fraser interception return and two long catch-and-runs by T.Y. Hilton, then shut down Louisville’s offense in the second half to win in Kentucky. Fraser graduated in December and Hilton is running through NFL secondaries.
Medlock and Hilliard remain. In fact, both played in each FIU game.
“We have an opponent who is not playing well right now with a new coach that’s installing a new system there,” Strong said. “But the last two times we played them, it has been a struggle for us. On both sides, the players are very familiar because we recruit Miami.”