CRAWFORD | At Louisville, Strong is about winning, not entertaining
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In the University of Louisville team meeting room, nearly an entire wall is covered with the words, in big, capital letters, "LOUISVILLE FOOTBALL PLAN TO WIN."
In smaller, but still all caps, it outlines these components:
1). Play great defense.
2). Score in the red zone. Prevent scoring in the red zone.
3). Turnover battle -- no turnovers, create turnovers.
4). Win the kicking game.
I have checked and double-checked the wall. Nowhere does it say to score 70 points. It is not continued on another wall with a No. 5. that reads "lead the nation in scoring and offense." Nowhere is there fine print about entertaining people. Put a pin in that thought for a moment.
The Cardinals beat Houston 20-13 in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Saturday night. It was the first time in 22 games that Teddy Bridgewater did not have a touchdown pass, but once again the U of L defense clamped down on an opponent, holding a team that had averaged nearly 40 points per game to just a single touchdown.
Houston had scored in every quarter it had played this season except for one. Against Louisville, it was scoreless in three. The Cougars were held to their lowest passing yardage since 2005.
I point all this out because there seems to be a dissatisfaction among some of U of L's fan base. They see Bridgewater, who could be among the top players taken in this year's NFL Draft, and DeVante Parker, who is one of the nation's most talented receivers, and running back Dominique Brown, who carried 27 times for 137 yards Saturday, and they wonder how U of L can finish a game with a mere 20 points.
There is grumbling, still, because Central Florida is going to take care of business and get to a BCS bowl, and because it shredded U of L's defense for a come-from-behind victory on Louisville's home field.
There is general dissatisfaction. There is frustration that the schedule dealt them out of the national conversation before it even could get into it.
All of this, I understand.
But to speak to it, I would refer any who share in those sentiments back to the wall I mentioned in the introduction to this story. For the most part, this program is doing what Charlie Strong built it to do.
In every game -- even its lone loss -- it has scored enough points to win. It is an offense designed to move the chains and get first downs. We can argue, and I would, and many reading this would, that it is not scoring as many points as it could. But it has scored enough to win.
And this is who Charlie Strong is. And this is what the program is.
You want pinball numbers, head up to Indiana. There are plenty of good seats available.
At Louisville, the Cardinals improved to 9-1 for a second straight season and for the seventh time in school history. Strong has won 20 of his past 23 games.
I have some kind of experience with a season like this one. It was 2002. In that season, Dave Ragone was a Heisman candidate and the Cardinals were nationally ranked early. What everyone overlooked was inexperience on the offensive line. Kentucky clocked U of L in the opener, and that team finished 7-6, its regular season culminating with a loss to Houston and its bowl game marred by the announcement of coach John L. Smith's departure during the broadcast.
This season, U of L has dealt with offensive line issues. Bridgewater has been hit more in the past three weeks than he was the entire first seven games. The fact of the matter is, you have to be great up front to dominate offensively, no matter how good your skill people are. The Cardinals are not.
Strong, in fact, was dissatisfied Saturday night. He was angry at halftime.
"We were an undisciplined team," he said of the first half. "We got complacent and comfortable. Offensively we didn't do a good job of continuing to move the ball. We had too many loss-yardage plays."
Teddy Bridgewater completed nine of his first 11 passes. Then he hit on only two of seven in the second quarter. When the passing game faltered, Strong and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson turned to Brown and the running game to win the game. Bridgewater threw for a season-low 203 yards against a defense ranked 117th out of 125 against the pass. Strong would like to have seen better offense. But he wasn't going to lose sleep over it.
"We were facing a team who was averaging around 40 points per game and 400 yards and we held them for less than 200 and only 13 points and shut them out in the second half," Strong said. "Our defense came alive and they made some plays. On special teams we have to get better. We have to get better as an overall football team. This is a good win for us but we know we can play much better than we did tonight. . . . In the second half I saw a team that came out and showed some toughness and resiliency. I told them it doesn't matter what we do on offense, if we go out there and not allow a team to score we have a chance to go win the football game. So let's not talk about how the offense is doing. All three phases need to pick it up."
So this week, Strong will go back to work picking it up.
This is the team U of L is. It wins anyway. Strong isn't worried about the level of competition or margin of victory. He wins, he moves on, he tries to improve.
He's not an entertainer. He's not going to be an entertainer. He doesn't care about the hype. Somebody asked him about the pictures of black uniforms that someone on his staff tweeted this week. He said they would not be worn.
"No, we have a jersey and we are who we are," he said. "I don't need black jersey to make sure I can play better, run faster or see how high I can jump. The guys think that, but I don't need that. We are going to play the way we are going to play, and we are going to wear what we wear at home. We wear red at home and white on the road. That's who we are. I don't know where they got it from. The bad part is that one of our coaches tweeted it. That's the bad part about it -- a coach. Are you more interested in the uniforms than coaching our guys? A coach tweeted that."
This is who Charlie Strong is. You don't get the style points. You don't get the show. Entertainment is not part of the plan. It's right there on the wall.
Unless you are entertained by winning.
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