NEW ORLEANS (WDRB) -- In a city that appreciates good oratory as much as any, where the Huey Long Bridge still spans the Mississippi, University of Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford is right at home.
When they asked him to make an opening statement before an AllState Sugar Bowl press conference on Sunday, he stepped up to the plate.
"No one expected us to be here but us," Bedford said. "We have an outstanding head coach in Coach Charlie Strong, and what you see in him you see in our football team -- a very tenacious, hard-working team. And that's why we're here. We're here to put on a good show, and we're looking forward to challenge of facing the University of Florida."
If Charlie Strong has become U of L football's brand, Bedford is its leading spokesman. This season, the defensive coordinator has been a bit on the defensive. After back-to-back seasons in the top 25 in total defense, this year's defensive unit has been less consistent. It has made big plays, but also given up a bit more than in the past two years.
But when a question came about the high expectations for the defense, Bedford had it scouted.
"Coach Strong has -- every place he's been has played great defense," Bedford said. "And when we came here to Louisville, one thing we wanted to bring was a certain attitude about being an aggressive, attacking style defense. Those are the things we've done. I think our first year we finished somewhere around 18th in the nation. I think a year ago I think we were about 21st. This year we're 25th. And the difference in the two seasons is this: Our offense this year played outstanding. It did some tremendous things. Our first two years we had our struggles. This year we played more as a team. We won ten ball games. First two years we won seven ball games.
"We're doing just a little bit right to go from seven wins to ten wins. I get excited about that. That's why we're sitting here today in New Orleans and having a little gumbo and a little crawfish etouffee . So I'm excited. Hopefully, if we can do the same thing for the next 10 years at Louisville, I'll be truly excited."
Bedford was on a roll. Of his trademark "get on the train" statement, he said: "I made a comment two years ago about getting on a train. I said that for one reason because I saw the future. I saw what the future held for the University of Louisville, with the Teddy Bridgewaters . . . Marcus Smith. Calvin Pryor. That's what I saw. I still see those things. I see a bright future for the University of Louisville for the next four, five years, and I want to be a part of that for as long as Coach Strong is here as long as the University of Louisville wants me to be here I plan to be here."
But Bedford knows it will take more that elevated rhetoric to raise the game of U of L's defense to match the offensive line of Florida and the power running of running back Mike Gillislee. U of L's has been a defense that has struggled on the interior and hasn't always tackled reliably.
Getting healthy will help some. Bedford will have more bodies to rotate in the Sugar Bowl than he had the entire second half of the season, including DeAngelo Brown and Sheldon Rankins, who are expected back from injury.
But he acknowledged on Sunday, it's going to take something extra for U of L's defense to do what it needs to do.
"We're going to try to rush four, rush three. Give different looks. Zone pressure sometimes," Bedford said. "And for us to have a chance with this ballgame we have to keep them off balance with different looks, different fronts, movements and stunts. So I'm happy to have all of those guys back. We plan to play every guy we have up front."
One thing Bedford would welcome is a few turnovers. He praised Florida's defense for being opportunistic, and said that's a trait that Louisville's needs to develop.
"When you look across the country, look at the University of Florida, one thing they're great at right now is getting the ball back for the offense," Bedford said. "That's something we have not done well in three years here. We've had a lot of missed opportunities, whether it be caused fumbles, whether it be interceptions. We need to improve in those areas. Once that happens we'll improve defensively."
Bedford also has given his defensive players a single key -- stop Gillislee. If they can succeed in that, perhaps, they can force Florida into areas where it is less comfortable -- and dangerous.
Whatever the outcome of the Sugar Bowl, Bedford articulated one key outlook of this U of L staff. It's nice to be in New Orleans, but the future is even nicer, particularly since Strong made part of his staying a provision that his assistant coaches be taken care of.
"We're sitting here right now in New Orleans," Bedford said. "I think (the train) is rolling pretty good. Because we are ahead of what anyone ever expected us. Who in the country expected us to be sitting right here in the Sugar Bowl, to be in the Sugar Bowl game? It's heading in the right direction. We have the young talent. We're a junior/sophomore team. On defense we only have one senior that's starting. On offense we have three seniors that are starting. You're talking about a young football team. So the future's ahead of us. The thing is if you stay healthy, and we do a tremendous job coaching -- and we have a long way to go as far as coaches, to be honest with you, we need to continue to get better as a coaching staff -- If we can do that and keep guys healthy, I think the future here is going to be outstanding."