No. 7 Louisville aims to stay focused during bye week
By GARY GRAVES The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville's nonconference schedule ended with the complete game that coach Charlie Strong had been seeking. His challenge now to players is carrying that effort and focus into league play.
The Cardinals get a week off to get ready.
Seventh-ranked Louisville (4-0) enters a bye week fresh off of Saturday's 72-0 thrashing of Florida International that showed how powerful they can be when locked in mentally and physically. The effort resulted in two dominating halves, several defensive milestones and Louisville's most lopsided win in six years that matched the program's fifth-largest victory margin.
Louisville expects stiffer challenges from American Athletic Conference opponents when league play begins Oct. 5 at Temple. Still, the Cardinals are the favorites to win the AAC in their lone season in the conference.
"The first segment is done, then we get to step into our conference and every game counts," Strong said. "We are going to have to do better and we are going to have to improve the running game on offense.
"Defensively, we can't allow a team to run the ball on us wherever we go. And in special teams, we have to do a better job in the cover game and then we need to get the ball returned into positive yards."
Saturday's win provided an impressive template for the Cardinals.
Louisville's defense spent the day mostly knocking and a young and banged FIU squad (0-4) backward. The Cardinals forced 11 punts and allowed just one third down record lows of 30 yards and two first downs to the Panthers, whose longest drive was 21 yards.
The performance gave Louisville's high-powered offense field position and opportunities that junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater quickly maximized. He threw for four touchdowns and 212 yards in three quarters of play before backup Will Gardner came in to complete all five of his passes and toss another TD.
Four Cardinals running backs ran for TDs and receiver-turned-cornerback Charles Gaines returned the second half opening kickoff 93 yards for another score after setting up one of Bridgewater's TDs with a fumble recovery.
"We have to give Teddy good looks," Gaines said.
That philosophy definitely carried Louisville to easy wins over Ohio, Eastern Kentucky and FIU along with a hard-earned triumph over in-state rival Kentucky. The Cardinals' mission now is keeping the momentum going in the league formerly known as the Big East, featuring new members such as Central Florida, Houston and Memphis along with such familiar foes as Rutgers and Connecticut.
Louisville will travel to Temple seeking its fourth straight win over the Owls before consecutive prime-time meetings against Rutgers and UCF, both of which have received poll votes following impressive wins in recent weeks against Arkansas and Penn State respectively.
The Scarlet Knights (3-1) rallied from a 17-point second half deficit to beat Arkansas 28-24 on Saturday. Last week, UCF went into Happy Valley and upset the Nittany Lions 34-31 that gave the new league some credibility.
UConn, which beat Louisville last season and hosts the Cardinals on Nov. 8, pushed Michigan to the limit before losing 24-21 on Saturday night. Those outcomes give the already motivated Cardinals an idea about what's ahead in conference play.
Not that the Cardinals needed reminding of why they need to stay focused.
As Bridgewater said, "we're trying to do something special here.
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