The scene is eerily similar for the University of Louisville football team, which returns home to face FIU after securing a road win over intrastate rival Kentucky on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals ran their winning streak to three games over the Wildcats with a 27-13 victory, moving Louisville’s record to 3-0 and securing its eighth straight nonconference win.
The Cardinals were in the same situation two years ago when they snapped Kentucky’s four-game winning streak with a 24-17 win on the road. However, the jubilation was short-lived as the Cardinals fell the following week to Marshall 17-13.
“I think we’re a different team now,” head coach Charlie Strong said at his weekly press conference. “It’s a more mature team now. All those guys with Marshall were freshmen then, and now they’ve moved up closer to this room. I’m not so worried about the fake juice, because I think that with the veteran team we have now, they’re going to come out and compete and go play well.”
The Cardinals are definitely a different team. The squad consisted mainly of freshmen and sophomores, and junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was starting his first game as a Cardinal in the loss to the Thundering Herd.
“You see now that the team has been taken over by the players,” Strong said. “Two years ago, I couldn’t have said that, because I didn’t know where the leadership was coming from. Now, you have some really strong leaders on this football team from Preston Brown to Brandon Dunn to Roy Philon to Hakeem (Smith) to Calvin (Pryor) to Teddy (Bridgewater). You have some guys that can really take the team.”
The Cardinals must show maturity and show their head coach that they have learned their lesson and come out and take care of an 0-3 FIU squad, which lost to Bethune-Cookman at home on Saturday.
“It’s always about respecting the game,” Strong said. “Like I said, we’re always playing against ourselves and not the opponent. The guys have to understand that even though we’re in the position that we’re in, we have to get better and we’re going to get better. We’re nowhere near where we should be. We can pull up the tape and look at it. The guys look at it and they want to get better.”
Louisville is looking to go 4-0 for the second-straight season and just the ninth time since 1946. The teams have traded victories in their only two meetings in series history, with the Cardinals winning 28-21 in last season’s encounter in Miami.
Despite a 3-0 record and a No. 6 national ranking, the Cardinals understand there is plenty of room to improve. Louisville scored a season-low 10 points in the first half and a season-low 27 in the win over Kentucky, and on defense, the Cardinals gave up a number of big plays.
“You can say this: we can play better,” Strong said. “We can play much better. We can improve on offense. We can improve on defense. We sure can improve on the kicking game. Key players need to step up. Some of the players can play much better than what we’re playing. “
With 18 seniors and 32 juniors on the roster, the Cardinals must show they have matured and put the Kentucky win behind them and focus on an FIU team that will come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium looking for its first win. The Cardinals must show they are not the same team from two years ago.