LOUISVILLE — After his offense stalled in the second half of Louisville's 21-9 opening game win against Murray State, Coach Charlie Strong is working with his team on finishing out games.
Louisville scored on three of its first four possessions against the Racers and took a comfortable 21-3 lead into halftime but was unable to continue its momentum, going scoreless in the second half.
Strong says he should have addressed to his young club the importance of putting a team away when it has the chance.
"What happens, and I saw it at halftime and should have addressed it at that time, is that when we get a lead it's all about going to finish the game," he said.
One reason may be the team's relative inexperience.
Tight end Josh Chichester and wideouts Josh Bellamy and Andrell Smith were the Louisville offense's only returning starters against Murray State as center Mario Benavides sat with an ankle injury. Louisville broke in five new starters on the offensive line and a new quarterback in junior Will Stein.
Stein said "a lot of the rhythm was off" after the break and that the coaching staff has emphasized fundamentals, such as limiting penalties and gaining positive yardage on first down, and coming out with a purpose in the second half as they prepare to host FIU on Friday.
Louisville's second-half running game managed just 55 yards on the ground while nursing a lead. The team's offensive identity was built around a power ground attack in Strong's first season in 2010, leading the Big East in rushing last season with 175 yards per game.
"We're just trying to get our groove back, get the run game back," Stein said. "It's stuff that's easily fixed. We've just got to produce."
Strong named senior running back Victor Anderson the face of the program at the team's kickoff luncheon, a title that Bilal Powell parlayed last season into more than 1,400 yards on the ground.
Anderson — the 2008 Big East Rookie of the Year who has been slowed by injuries the last two seasons — and sophomore Jeremy Wright saw considerable action behind Powell in 2010 and are expected to be one of the Big East's better backfield tandems.
"We have two great starting running backs in Vic and Jeremy. So you get them out and running, it creates big plays for the offense on the ground. And then you play-action them and it creates big plays in the air," Stein said.
The Louisville defense returns more experience and Strong has said that unit is the strength of his team. But he knows he needs an offense that can produce points throughout the game to best play the attacking defense he's known for.
"The guys on offense, it's important for them to take the leadership and say, 'hey, we've got to take this ball and go drive and go score,'" Strong said.