Cards focus on Pitt after big win at WVU

Charlie Strong said Monday that his team's road win at West Virginia was a significant step forward for his young team. Now, Strong wants his players to put their big win over the Mountaineers behind them and focus solely on Pittsburgh.

Louisville coach Charlie Strong said Monday that his team's road win at then-No. 24 West Virginia Saturday was a significant step forward for his young team.

Now, Strong wants his players to put their big win over the Mountaineers behind them and focus solely on Pittsburgh, who visits PJCS Saturday at noon for a key Big East conference matchup.

"It was a really big win for us in West Virginia," Strong said on the Big East coaches teleconference. "For our football team to go into their stadium and play as well as they did was unbelievable. Each week we continue to grow up with the youth on this football team. Players are getting better and they're learning how to play. That's all about focus and preparation. Guys are beginning to buy in and that win was a step forward for this program."

After falling to 2-4 after three straight losses to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati, Strong's team has re-grouped to win three consecutive Big East games. Saturday's win over West Virginia gave Louisville sole possession of second place in the league standings behind Cincinnati, and Strong hopes his team has learned to focus on its next opponent instead of past success.

"We know this, we beat Kentucky and came back to lose to Marshall," Strong said. "Now that we beat West Virginia we have to be prepared to play Pittsburgh. It's a conference game and Pittsburgh has beaten us the last three years. It's going to be a good challenge for us."

Strong drilled that message into his player's heads Sunday night during a team meeting. After an emotionally-charged road win over Kentucky in September, Louisville responded with two bad weeks of practice that resulted in a disappointing 17-13 loss at home to Marshall.

"You hope the leadership will take over on this football team and guys will not get trapped listening to the outside influences," said Strong. "Last night we met and that's the only thing I talked about - our only focus is Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh only. That's the only thing we need to be worried about. It's a one game season and be ready to go play Pitt."

Though his team's confidence was shaken during a three-game losing streak that coincided with a change in offensive coordinators, Strong's young team has grown up a lot the past few weeks.

"What has helped this team is (better) preparation," Strong said. "A change happened after we won our first conference game. You can just feel it growing. Then we beat a good Syracuse team and go into West Virginia and beat them. Each week we're beginning to mature as a football team. We're still young, but that's not an excuse."

The biggest development for Louisville has been the improved play of the offense. After struggling against North Carolina and Cincinnati following Mike Sanford's abrupt departure, Louisville's offense, under Shawn Watson's guidance, has performed better of late.

The Cardinals have rushed for more than 100 yards the past three games after struggling earlier in the season to get the running game going and true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has developed into a reliable on-field leader. Bridgewater earned a spot on the Big East Honor Roll after throwing for a career-high 246 yards and one touchdown against West Virginia, while completing 21 of 27 pass attempts.

"Teddy Bridgewater is a young man that has a lot of poise," Strong said. "He's grown and matured with each game and gotten better and better. It's going to continue to happen for him. He's got so much more room for improvement and so much more room for development. And that's going to happen."

Strong said Bridgewater's improved play the past few weeks is a direct result of Louisville's success on the ground.

"He's played well these last three games," said Strong. "What has helped Teddy more than anything is we've been able to run the football. When you are able to the run the football it doesn't put all of the pressure on the quarterback to throw it."

Now, Louisville hopes to continue building momentum against a struggling Pittsburgh team that has dropped 5 of their past 7 games, including a narrow 26-23 setback Saturday against Cincinnati. The Panthers, under first year coach Todd Graham, hasn't beaten an FBS team with a winning record and has lost three games by four points or less.

"They are a really good football team," said Strong. "(Tino) Sunseri at quarterback is outstanding and they have a really good defense with seven starters back. We understand the challenge. We just have to continue to get better as a football team and stay focused."

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