Charlie Strong was not happy with his defense in U of L's loss to Syracuse.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Charlie Strong was hired to fix the University of Louisville football program because of the remarkable work he did coaching the defense at Florida.
In 2008, Strong's defense delivered a national championship, limiting Oklahoma to 14 points in the BCS title game. In 2009, Florida was even more difficult to attack, ranking fourth in the nation in total defense and scoring defense.
Charlie Strong knows great defense. He also knows ordinary defense. Strong knows that ordinary defense is what his U of L team has played this season, starting in September. That's what Strong has to fix over the final two regular-season games this season.
Two days after the final whistle, Strong appeared to be so perturbed by the defense that his team played in a 45-26 loss at Syracuse Saturday that he was compelled to open his Monday press conference by reading from a prepared statement.
"This has been a special season," Strong said. "Our players have made an unbelievable run. We have bigger goals still to be met.
"The important thing is for us not to let one setback turn into frustration, excuse-making, lack of responsibility or poor individual habits."
Translation: At 9-1, if Louisville finishes the year by defeating Connecticut and Rutgers, the Cards still win the Big East and play in a BCS Bowl.
Eventually, Strong strayed from the script. When he did, Strong used words that said that he was upset by his players' lack of toughness and commitment to football fundamentals. Especially their toughness.
"Just get up off the ground and get off the field," he said about players who were slow to bounce back at Syracuse. "There's nothing wrong with you."
"One guy laid there who should have laid there, Senorise (running back Senorise Perry, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL). The rest, get off the field."
I don't blame him.
This is the best defensive talent that Strong has employed during his three seasons at Louisville. But these are far from the best results.
Check the numbers:
Rushing defense: 161 yards per game, 66th in the nation – worse than 2011 (100.5, 10th) and 2010 (144, 52nd)
Total defense: 356 yards per game, 36th in the nation – worse than 2011 (328, 23rd) and 2010 (312, 14th).
Scoring defense: 24.6 points per game, 46th in the nation – worse than 2011 (20, 17th) and 2010 (19 and 18th).
Paging Dexter Heyman, the most important defender missing from 2011 and 2010.
Better and more experienced players, fortified by more depth, have not translated into better performance. Even against a schedule padded without a single Top 25 opponent.
Syracuse hung 10 points on Minnesota, 14 on Pittsburgh and 15 on Rutgers. That's 39 points in three games. Syracuse scored 38 in less than 40 minutes against Louisville. Ugh.
Strong eased into film-room talk when trying to describe what wrong for the Cardinals at the Carrier Dome. He talked about players, primarily linebackers, not staying in their gaps to make tackles. He was not impressed by how his defenders shed blockers to arrive in position to make forceful hits. He was critical of the tackling.
"You got beat good," Strong said of his players. "The demeanor (of his team) isn't very good."
I'm certain that is true. But remember: This was not the first time that Louisville has delivered a blah defensive performance. The numbers for this season do not fib. Louisville has not been a team to fear on defense all season.
"You'd like to play better," Strong said. "We have to play better. I'm not surprised about it. I'm just disappointed that we're not playing well."
This defense was supposed to be more talented than the 2011 or 2010 defenses. The college football world hasn't seen it. Strong, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and the U of L players have two more chances to fix that.