University of Louisville football head coach Charlie Strong has a schedule hanging in the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex that lists the schedule one game at a time. A blank piece of tape covers Ohio, because that game is over and just the Eastern Kentucky game remains uncovered on the schedule.
Meaning, the Cardinals are going to take the 2013 season one game at a time.
Cliché? Certainly. But with the expectations at an all-time high, Strong is trying to keep the players away from what he calls "the noise in the system."
"As a staff, we have to talk about it all the time," Strong said at Tuesday's press conference. "We have to continue to grind it into them. We have to really talk to them about that. It is human nature and they are going to read what everyone is going to say. Just take a lesson from Teddy (Bridgewater) because he doesn't listen to that. He goes about his business week by week. As a whole team, that is what we have to do, just week by week. Let's take care of our business."
The Cardinals went about their business in a big way on Sunday, defeating an Ohio team that went 9-4 last season and won a bowl game. The Cardinals played one of their most complete games of the Strong era with a 49-7 victory. The offense was unstoppable and the defense shut down the run and a potent Bobcat offense.
After a dominating win over a quality opponent, the Cardinals must get back to work and not listen to everyone telling them that they moved up to No. 8 in the polls and they should run through their schedule. Strong knows it's not about the opponent, it's about his team.
"We just have to worry about ourselves," Strong said. "That is what I continue to say. If we just take care of our business and get better week by week and not fall into a trap or get full of ourselves, then we are going to have a chance to continue to move up. If we listen to what everyone says, we can fall into the trap and we cannot allow that to happen to us."
If the Cardinals play offensively like they did on Sunday, they might not have a lot to worry about. Junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed why he is being considered one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and the Cardinals have one of the most explosive offensive units in the nation. Racking up 615 yards of total offense, the Cardinals threw for 416 yards, and had four different receivers catch touchdown passes. Despite all the yards and points, Strong came away impressed with how his team played from the opening kick to the final whistle.
"You know what I liked, is just the way we finished the game and we didn't go out the second half," Strong said. "We had a big lead and we didn't go out there and just sit on the ball, but we continued to play. That was key. I told them at halftime that what is going to be critical for us is just how we go finish this game and finish it the right way."
The Cardinals started it and finished the right way.
But that game is a distant memory, and the Cardinals are turning their attention to Eastern Kentucky, 38-6 winners over Robert Morris last Thursday. The Colonels came into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 2010 and gave the Cardinals fits all afternoon on Sept. 11, but Louisville prevailed 23-13 - the first win for Strong at Louisville.
"They (EKU) return four starters on offense and seven on defense," Strong said. "Their quarterback is very athletic and he is a guy who can throw the ball down the field. Last year, they lost their top running back and their top wide receivers. But they return four of five on the offensive line. On defense, their linebacking crew is a really solid crew for them. It is a solid football team. Dean Hood - I know Dean. He is a friend of mine and he has done a really good job there."
Eastern Kentucky, an FCS school, is ranked 21st in the nation, and with eight other FCS programs winning at FBS schools, the Colonels have Strong's attention. The head coach's task this week is getting his team off cloud nine and focusing on the next challenge. But, with a veteran squad, Strong shouldn't have a problem getting his team to turn the page and focus on a talented EKU squad.
"It's just a compliment to our football team and just how they are preparing," Strong said. "On Sunday, we watched the Saturday night games. When they use to watch the opponent play, they would be like, `Oh look at that.' Now there was none of that. They say that is the way we have to perform tomorrow. You just see a team that is growing up and growing together. That is why you will not see the `fake juice' anymore. I think they know how to approach a game now and get their minds right. The mindset is critical."
The mindset now is to go to 2-0. Strong and company won't be focusing on anything else until they're putting another piece of tape over Eastern Kentucky. But only after the scoreboard reads all zeroes and the Sept. 7 game is in the books.