Charlie Strong's young Cardinals need a confidence boost after losing at home last Friday to Florida International. With their confidence shaken, Louisville, 1-1, faces a tough test Saturday in Lexington against rival Kentucky – a team that has beaten the Cardinals the past four years.
"Our guys have to have confidence and believe they can get it done," Strong said. "That's what's lacking now – total confidence within each player."
The last two times UofL played the Wildcats on their home turf – a 40-34 loss in 2007, and a 31-27 setback in 2009 - the Cardinals dropped heartbreakers they probably should have won. If Louisville hopes to beat Kentucky in Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since 2005, Strong's defense must lead the way.
Except for two lapses in the first half against FIU's explosive receiver T.Y. Hilton, Strong's defense has played well this season. After surrendering two long touchdown receptions to Hilton in the first half of Friday's 24-17 loss, Louisville regrouped in the second half, allowing the Panthers just a field goal. On the season, Louisville' defense has allowed just 292 yards and 16.5 points per game.
Strong hopes that his team finds its confidence during practice this week heading into a hostile environment this weekend.
"When we walk into that stadium we have to play well," Strong said. "A lot of times when teams go on the road they don't play well because they don't have that confidence to play well, that's what we need, the confidence to know we can go play well on the road."
Without confidence ingrained into his youth-filled team, Strong isn't sure his Cardinals can go on the road and win against Kentucky, which overcame deficits to beat Western Kentucky and Central Michigan the last two weeks, for the first time in five years.
"I don't know if we can beat Kentucky right now," Strong said. "They return 10 starters on defense and their entire offensive line is back, which is the nucleus of their football team. They've beaten us four straight years and they've been to five straight bowl games. We still have a ways to go to catch (their) program. We have to continue to rebuild this program and get this program headed in the right direction."
Strong was "frustrated and disappointed" by his team's performance against FIU. This week, he hopes to see better play from UofL's inexperienced offensive line and more focus and attention to detail from his defense. Strong also wants to see his offense score more consistently in the red zone.
"It's all about building a program," Strong explained. "We won a bowl game last year, but it's like it's year one because we lost 25 seniors. We have to play well and win games. It's all about trust. When guys trust the guy next to them to do his job the confidence will come. We have a whole lot of holes where we have to build confidence."
Governor's Cup NotebookJunior center Mario Benavides won't play against Kentucky, though there's a possibility sophomore defensive end B.J. Butler could return to action after missing the Cardinals first two game with a knee injury sustained during fall camp.
"Mario for sure will not be back (this week)," Strong said. "BJ has been running but we don't know where he is being ready to play the game."
Louisville is 0-2 when against Kentucky when the game is not the first game of the season.
The Cardinals have out-gained the Wildcats in the last two meetings in Lexington, but dropped both contests. Louisville out-gained Kentucky 467-460 in 2007 and 378-346 in 2009. Victor Anderson ran for 110 yards in the last meeting in Lexington.
Though Kentucky leads the series 14-9, Louisville has a 9-8 advantage since the series resumed in 1994. Kentucky won the first six games of the series from 1912 to 1924.
Charlie Strong is 0-1 against Kentucky, losing to the Wildcats 23-16 in last year's meeting.