Cards look to use bowl as springboard

Louisville (6-6) has plenty to play for Tuesday night against Southern Mississippi (8-4) in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. A winning season. The program's first bowl win since 2006. A victory over an old rival. The Cardinals are also hoping to use their bowl game as a springboard to better things in the future.

Louisville's game against Southern Mississippi Tuesday night in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl is important for two major reasons in the program's quest to return to national prominence.

Tonight's contest marks the Cardinals first post-season appearance in four years. That's right, the Orange Bowl was the last time Louisville has played in a bowl game. That's a few too many Christmas' sitting at home for a program that went to nine straight bowl games from 1998-2006.

Charlie Strong and Co. also believe the Beef O'Brady's Bowl could be a springboard to bigger and better things in the future.

The Cardinals, picked to finish last in the Big East before the season, weren't supposed to be playing in a bowl game in Strong's first season. But Strong, the Co-Big East Coach of the Year, quickly turned Louisville around with hard work, discipline and good coaching.

While Strong's staff used ‘smoke and mirrors,' - plus a good running game, and strong defense - to finish the regular-season 6-6, help is on the way for the Cardinals.

That point was made clear Monday when five-star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and three-star wide receiver Eli Rodgers committed to Louisville over Miami. Strong now has 22 commitments lined up for next season in a recruiting class that rates as the Big East's best and No. 27 in the nation.

The future certainly appears bright for Strong's program - a program that won only four games last season.

Charlie Strong looks to lead Louisville to their first bowl win since 2006.
But for now, these Cards are focused on winning a bowl game and finishing the 2010 season on a winning note. A victory over Southern Miss tonight would give Louisville a winning record for the first time since 2006.

That's exactly how Strong wants his players heading into the off-season - on a positive note.

Notching their seventh win this season won't be easy for Strong‘s Cardinals.

Southern Mississippi boasts one of the nation's highest scoring offenses, ranking 15th in the nation in scoring at 37 points per game. But the Golden Eagles also surrender lots of points, giving up as many points as they average in their last six games. Larry Fedora's team twice scored 50 or more points this season - and won just one of those games.

USM quarterback Austin Davis will provide a major challenge for Strong's defense. Davis threw for 2,898 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, completing 63 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 436 yards and 10 scores.

Louisville will counter with a solid defense that ranks No. 11 nationally in total defense and an offense led by running back Bilal Powell, one of the Top 10 rushers in the nation.

"Offensively, we have to take care of the football and execute," said Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora. "Defensively, we are going to have to stop the run and can't give up the big plays in the passing game."

Louisville qualified for a bowl game because its defense kept getting better as the season went along. The Cardinals gave up 35 points in their Big East opener against Cincinnati, but developed into a unit that allowed just 18 points per game and shut out Big East champion Connecticut.

"They are fifth in the country in sacks and they are averaging over three a game," Fedora said. "[Defensive Coordinator] Vance [Bedford] and Charlie [Strong] have got them playing really hard. There have been games when they blitz over 80 percent of the time. They are gong to bring the heat, whether you are ready for it or not."

Louisville will attack Southern Mississippi questionable defense the same way they've tried to attack opponents all season - with a heavy does of running back Bilal Powell. When Powell, who rushed for over 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns, plays well, Louisville usually wins. OC Mike Sanford likely will call upon Powell early and often against the Golden Eagles, who rank 13th nationally in rushing defense surrendering just 113 yards per game on the ground.

Justin Burke, who started Louisville's last four games after Adam Froman went down with an injury, will make his fifth consecutive start. Froman, who is available to play for the first time since getting injured at Pittsburgh, also could see action tonight.

Whoever is under center will be tasked with one major responsibility against Southern Mississippi‘s aggressive defense - protect the football. Though Southern Miss' defense gave up a lot of points this season, they also forced 25 turnovers. Taking good care of the ball will be a big key for Strong's offense.

Louisville has plenty to play for Tuesday night against Southern Miss. A winning season. The program's first bowl win since 2006. A victory over an old rival.

And while there is plenty to play for in the present, Louisville also hopes its appearance in the Beef O'Brady Bowl helps the program build toward better things in the future.

The game, set for 8 p.m., EST, will be televised nationally on ESPN.

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