Hakeem Smith: 'It helped us see our problems'

The All-Conference selection spoke with Cardinal Authority following practice this week about the lessons learned from the loss at Syracuse and making it an opportunity to improve.

As one of the more experienced players on the Louisville football roster, junior safety Hakeem Smith is among those counted on for strong play and leadership on the defensive side of the ball.

Following an outing that saw the Cardinals suffer their first defeat and the worst defensive showing of the season, the extra time during the bye week has become an opportunity to for the defense to face its weaknesses and improve.

"We had to find out what our mistakes were and what's really wrong with the defense," Smith said of the 45-26 loss at Syracuse. "We've been kind of struggling all year, but that game helped us see our problems, so now we can work on fixing that and getting better."

The focus for the team this week has been improvement and health. The team didn't see full contact in practice this week, dressing in shoulders pads, helmets and shorts.

"We're getting a lot of guys rested, but we are still up tempo and staying focused," said Smith, who is currently third on the team with 58 tackles. "We're just hoping that this extra week will help us get some guys healthy."

Tackling and turnovers are areas that have been stressed by the coaching staff as points of improvement. The Cardinals current rank of 22nd in the nation in turnover margin is impressive, but its 17 total takeaway's rank much lower at 56th. With just 6 interceptions on the season, U of L's defense is 91st in the FBS statistical rankings.

"We always focus on that, but we still don't have that many," Smith said of the defense‘s focus on turnovers. "Everyday we work on knocking the ball out of the receivers hands and stripping the ball from the running back. We work on making sure that we see every snap as an opportunity to get the ball back."

Smith added that improved leadership is also key.

"We all need to be leaders, but we all need to work together as a defense, to make sure that we are all on the same page and have one voice."

The 2010 Big East Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year, Smith will be making his 36th consecutive start at safety when Connecticut visits Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 24. A win against the Huskies puts Louisville in position to finish the regular season at Rutgers with the conference title and a trip to a BCS bowl on the line.

"We know it's important to take it one game at a time, so we aren't going to look ahead to anything down the road except to focus on Uconn," said Smith. "When we get that job done, we'll start focusing on Rutgers, but we have to take care of the next game first."

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