Heading into Strong's second season, Louisville's strengths figure to be at running back and wide receiver offensively, and up front defensively. As the season draws near, Strong and his staff are looking for answers on the offensive line, at quarterback and in the secondary, where three true freshmen are vying for playing time at corner.
"(Today) is the first time we had a chance to come into the stadium," Strong said after the scrimmage. "I tell them every time we come into the stadium I expect them to play like it's a game. I wanted to see them execute every play."
Perhaps the biggest issue to be settled heading into the scrimmage was the quarterback battle between junior Will Stein and true freshman Teddy Bridgewater. Stein has held the edge throughout camp, and it doesn't sound like his performance Saturday did anything to change that.
"Coach Strong has said for a while that if we played today Will Stein would be our quarterback and I would defer to him right now on that," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. "But I feel the exact same way he does."
Both Stein and Bridgewater rotated snaps with the first unit offense and Strong was pleased with the way they managed the U of L offense.
"You don't want to see them turn the football over and they managed the offense well," Strong said of his quarterbacks. "We rotated them a lot and each one of them had a chance to roll with the one's. They (both) performed pretty well."
Sanford broke down the good and bad offensively from the scrimmage.
"The number one positive from an offensive standpoint was that we scored," Sanford said. "I think we scored 11 touchdowns, which is a positive. The other positive is that we scored three out of four chances on the goal line."
"The negatives, we had nine false starts and we've got to eliminate those," Sanford added. "The other negative we had three turnovers - two fumbles and one interception. We committed what I consider the Cardinal Sin of offensive football we fumbled the ball inside the five, which you absolutely can't do that."
The Cardinals are replacing four starters on the offensive line and have been forced to shuffle guys around up front during camp because center Mario Benavides has missed practice with a foot injury. Kamran Joyed has moved from guard to center, while true freshman John Miller stepped in to Joyer's guard position. Sanford was asked if the position shuffling was the reason for the false starts.
"The way Coach Strong has us looking at it is there should be no excuses," Sanford said. "We're not going to make up any excuses. We've got to solve it and make it better. As coaches and players we've got to solve it."
Despite the penalties, Strong believes his offensive line will be fine this season.
"They performed well," Strong said. "Our offensive line is going to be fine. We're young and inexperienced, but Alex Kupper and Ryan Kessling have played a lot. We still have to improve, but we know what we have to do."
Sanford didn't know when Benavides would return to practice. "His status is up in the air," Sanford said. "We're going to wait and see how he responds to treatment."
Miller, a road-grader from Miami, was one of Louisville's top offensive line recruits. Strong said the 6'3, 295-pound Miller is doing a good job learning Louisville's offense. "But there's such a big difference coming from high school to college and the pace is so fast for him," noted Strong.
Standouts on offense, according to Sanford, were senior running back Victor Anderson, freshmen wide outs Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker, who both made touchdown receptions, senior wide receiver Josh Bellamy, and senior tight end Josh Chichester.
"Those are some guys that did some positive things," Sanford said. "Will Stein and Teddy Bridgewater did some good things and Vic Anderson ran the ball pretty well. I'd like to say Jeremy Wright ran the ball pretty well but he had a fumble. To me that overshadows (everything) else."
Vance Bedford, Strong's defensive coordinator, was pleased with the effort of his front four, despite the absences of projected starters B.J. Butler (knee), Greg Scruggs (turf toe) and Brandon Dunn (leg).
"We wanted to play more base defense today and line up and play," Bedford said. "We saw some good things and some bad things. We knew going into the season our weaknesses were at corner and also linebacker, where we're missing Brandon Heath. Some of those things showed up a little, but we found out our front is going to be pretty good."
Junior safety Shenard Holton said the defensive line generated solid pressure on the quarterback during the scrimmage.
"We're going to rely heavily on our front this season," said Bedford. "We're probably going to play a lot more zone and let our front do some things until our young guys (in the defensive backfield) develop."
Bedford's cornerbacks lack experience, but have talent. Anthony Conner, a senior, is trying to hold off true freshmen Charles Gaines, Andrew Johnson and Terrell Floyd for starting positions. Redshirt freshman Jordan Paschal entered camp No. 1 at the other corner spot, but he's out with injury.
"(Charles) Gaines and Andrew (Johnson) they've improved each day," Strong said. "They made a few plays (today). They are learning how to practice. They're still a long ways off, but come Thursday (Murray State game) they'll be ready."
Bedford said his inexperienced corners can't give up big plays, especially with a young offense that might need time to find itself early this season.
"Anthony Conner made a few big hits for us, but he also gave up a few plays early in the scrimmage," Bedford said. "It's a lot of inconsistencies out there. If (we) give up a big play with a young offense right now we're going to have a hard time coming back and winning ball games. We cannot afford to give up big plays."
Though several of his top linemen sat out the scrimmage, Bedford said he wasn't concerned about the injury situation on the defensive front.
"We have some depth and time (before the first game)," Bedford said. "The most important thing about this season is getting healthy for conference play. It would be great to go out and beat our non-conference teams, but the most important thing is getting all those guys ready for conference play."
Scrimmage NotesLouisville's defense forced five turnovers during the scrimmage, including a 56-yard INT return for TD by safety Terrence Simien. Shenard Holton intercepted a pass in the end zone.
Victor Anderson led the team in rushing with over 100 yards and scored on a 14 yard run. Jeremy Wright scored two touchdowns.
Chris Philpott made two field goals, including one from 44-yards. He also connected on a 21-yard attempt.
Teddy Bridgewater scored on a 25-yard scramble against the second team defense.
Louisville returns to the practice field Monday afternoon, the first day classes begin.