Three days before the biggest game of his life, Charlie Strong says that rebuilding the Louisville football program won't be a fast process. He's worried about his defense, a unit that is thin on experienced talent heading into the season-opener against Kentucky this Saturday at PJCS. He also says his team is still searching for its identity.
"We're getting ready to go play," Strong said following practice Wednesday evening. "Our preparation has been good. We still just don't know who we are. We need to find that out. Hopefully we'll find it out on Saturday, but we still have a ways to go. You wish you could have another week but it's going to be a process here. It's going to take us some time."
But Strong and the Cardinals don't have much time left before Joker Phillips and Kentucky come to town. While Strong might have major concerns about his team's defense, his players are ready to get the season started in front of the largest crowd in PJCS history.
"You can tell everybody is ready, everybody is amped up to play," said starting safety Terence Simien. "We're just ready for Saturday."
While Strong isn't sure about his team's identity, he does know this: They haven't beaten Kentucky the past three years. He also knows his returning players lost 8 of 12 games last season.
"You don't know who you are until you go out there and play," Strong said. "You haven't played in so long and things haven't went well for us the last three years. Are the leaders going to step up and lead this football team? And how will we respond?"
"Preparation doesn't end until the ball hits the kickers foot," Strong said. "So we still have some time. We're still trying to work some players in and get them slotted in the right position."
Perhaps Strong's biggest concern is on defense. The Louisville coach has expressed concern about his defensive front and secondary. A true freshman is expected to start at middle linebacker. There are more questions at this point than answers on that side of the ball.
"I'm so concerned looking at the defense because that's where a lot of our issue are now," Strong said.
Though Kentucky enters as the favorite, Louisville can draw some hope from a near upset last year in Lexington. The Cardinals should have won that game, but two second half turnovers gave Kentucky a comeback 31-27 win.
If Louisville hopes to spring the upset this season, Strong says they'll have to stop Kentucky's ground game and take care of the football on offense. Kentucky rushed for 168 yards last season, while Louisville turned the football over twice.
"We've got to stop the run on defense," Strong said. "And offensively we can't turn the football over. We've just got to make some plays."
Simien said the defense has to stick together and swarm Kentucky's playmakers to have a chance at victory.
"Everybody has to play together and swarm to the ball," Simien said. "We've got to make sure we tackle. We've got to wrap up and give our defense somewhere to stand."
"Our job is to run the football and secure the football foremost," Louisville assistant Kenny Carter said. "That's what we're going to do. We've got a really good offensive line and we're excited to run behind them. We're going to take care of business and do what is required of us."
With a new spread offense in place, Carter hopes the element of surprise will be on Louisville's side against the Wildcats.
"We're going to run the football, throw the football, and try to be as balanced as we can," Carter said.