Strong hopes Cards re-focus for UConn

Charlie Strong's Cardinals head to UConn Saturday needing a victory to become bowl eligible. After a disappointing effort against Pittsburgh, Strong hopes his team responds with better focus in practice this week.

Louisville entered Saturday's game against Pittsburgh in sole possession of second place in the Big East standings.

After a disappointing 21-14 loss to the Panthers, the Cardinals missed an opportunity to move into a first place tie with Cincinnati, who suffered their first Big East loss against West Virginia Saturday.

Now, at 3-2in league play, Charlie Strong's Cards will head to UConn for Saturday's 12:00 game mired in a four-way tie for second place with West Virginia, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

"Looking back at the Pitt game we didn't play very well as a football team," Strong said on Monday's Big East teleconference. "Our focus and our preparation wasn't there. We came off a big win over West Virginia and you would have thought this team would have been ready to play.

"But that's what happens a lot of times when you try to get a program rebuilt. Their focus wasn't there. Winning has to become a habit and it hasn't become a habit yet here. We won three in a row and started listening to outside influences that made our guys not ready to go and play."

Strong said his players have to learn to expect winning and stop reading their press clippings after big wins. He also wants to see his team play with emotion, energy and passion that was lacking against Pitt.

"When winning becomes a habit you won't listen to the outside influences because that's what's expected of you," said Strong. "We have to get into this program that you're expected to win. Right now around here it's a big deal when you win a game like it's never happened before. We have to talk about it and it's got to be ingrained."

Strong also said his young team needs to learn better practice habits. The Louisville coach lamented his team's preparation in practice following big road wins over Kentucky and West Virginia, which resulted in losses to Marshall and Pittsburgh at home.

"Guys have to understand the work has to be done on the practice field to be carried onto the field on game day. You can't turn it on and off on game day. You have to do it from Sunday to Friday and they have to understand it. We have to keep working and drilling it in their heads."

Now, Strong hopes his team can quickly re-gain focus heading to Storrs. With two games remaining, Louisville (5-5) must beat either UConn or USF on the road to become bowl eligible.

"You hope that loss gets their attention," Strong said. "We don't practice until tomorrow. So we'll see how they approach the practice field Tuesday. They didn't approach it very well last week."

Louisville shut out the Huskies 26-0 last season at PJCS. The Huskies have won 2 of their last 3 Big East games, including a 28-21 win over Syracuse last week.

"They are a very strong, physical football team," Strong said. "We have to go on the road again and each week (UConn) has improved. They do a great job running the football. Their running back (Lyle) McCombs has close to 1,000 yards rushing right now. It's hard to tackle him because he can hide behind a big offensive line and when he does get into the open field he's able to make people miss."

The Huskies also play two different quarterbacks, which means Louisville's defense will have to prepare for both players. Johnny McEntee has completed 124 of 236 passes for 1,515 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions.

"You have to have two different game plans," Strong said. "One quarterback is a running quarterback with an option game and then they have a power game and (the other quarterback) throws the ball. We're going to have to make sure that we're locked in and understand which quarterback is in the game."

Louisville also hopes to get running back Jeremy Wright back this week. Wright sustained a high ankle sprain two weeks ago against WVU and sat out the Pittsburgh game with an injury.

"Jeremy Wright moved around in practice and think he will get better as the week moves on," Strong said.

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