Strong's Cards searching for identity

Louisville coach Charlie Strong's young squad will enter the season Thursday against Murray State still searching for an identity.

Charlie Strong has Louisville on the right track.

In his first season, Strong re-energized a lackluster program, guiding Louisville to a 7-6 record and the Beef O'Brady's championship after being picked last in the Big East.

Now, in his second season, Strong's task is keep the Cardinals moving forward despite the loss of 25 seniors and the presence of 12 true or redshirt freshmen in the two-deep.

"We're a young team that is still searching for an identity," Strong said. "We're nowhere near where we need to be. What's going to be key for us is how quickly we can take this young talent and develop it and, with the limited number of seniors that we have, that they can provide the leadership we need to take this program and move it forward."

Strong wants to build a tough team that plays through adversity. That's why he put his players through a physically demanding fall camp which resulted in two starters – center Mario Benavides and end B.J. Butler – sidelined for tomorrow's opener against Murray State.

Strong is anxious to see how freshman corner Andrew Johnson reacts against Murray's pass-happy offensive attack.
"We want to have a team that plays hard, plays together and plays with passion and energy," Strong said. "How quickly will our players understand that's the way the game has to be played?"

"What we tried to do this off-season and fall camp is teach them how to play. It's always fun to open the season and see what you have. We've been hitting each other and now we have a chance to go out and play a really good team like Murray State."

Though Louisville enters the season as one of the youngest teams in college football, Strong hopes his small senior class can provide necessary leadership for an inexperienced team.

"I think I have a football team that will go out and compete and play hard," Strong said. "Even with the limited number of seniors that we have Vic Anderson, (Josh) Chichester, (Josh) Bellamy, (Ryan) Kessling, Hector Hernandez, all those guys have tried to provide the leadership we're looking for. They understand 25 (seniors) walked out of here last year and it's on them to provide leadership."

With so much inexperience at several critical positions, including quarterback, where junior Will Stein will make only the third start of his career against the Racers, Strong understands his youthful bunch might experience growing pains.

"My biggest concern is the leadership and where it's going to come from," Strong said. "This year it may be one of those years where it's going to be a roller coaster. One week we're up the next we're down."

Though Murray State is an FCS opponent, Strong expects the Racers to challenge his young players. Chris Hatcher's team returns 10 starters on offense, including quarterback Casey Brockman, the OVC Player of the Year, and nine on defense.

"Coach Hatcher and I are really good friends," Strong said. "I actually hired him here as our quarterbacks coach and then the Murray State job came open and he took the Murray State job…..We go back many years and he's a outstanding coach."

Hatcher, who was an assistant to Hal Mumme at Kentucky, is known for producing offense. Last season, Murray State ranked fourth nationally in passing offense (313), fifth in total offense (449) and fifth in scoring (36).

In just six starts, Brockman threw for 2,442 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 292 yards and seven scores. With Brockman as a starter, Murray State averaged 549 yards and 44 points per game.

"It's a wide open, hurry up attack," Strong said. "Hatcher was with Hal Mumme when he was at Kentucky when that offense was wide open. They like to throw the football, but they'll mix in the run some. They throw a lot of balls. This game may last forever."

Hatchers pass happy attack could give Louisville's defense fits. The Cardinals are breaking in two new cornerbacks and are counting on several freshmen, including Andrew Johnson and Stephan Robinson, to contribute.

"They're going to get tested and that's why I'm so anxious to see how we're going to play and react," said Strong. "We have some young guys who haven't played at all."

Strong is counting on veteran safeties Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton, one of the best duos in the Big East, to help out his inexperienced cornerbacks.

"Scheme-wise, we'll get the safeties involved," Strong said. "We're a team that always wants to close off the middle of the field. It's going to be so critical that the whole secondary plays together."

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