Louisville's Strong calls for poise, aggressive play

U of L Coach Charlie Strong: "Our players will be jacked."
U of L Coach Charlie Strong: "Our players will be jacked."

LOUISVILLE — At last, game week has arrived for Charlie Strong.

A BIG game week.

Strong will be making his debut as the University of Louisville's football coach.

Saturday's season opener is against archrival Kentucky.

U of L's newly expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium (capacity 56,000-plus) is sold out.

This is a game that Strong has pointed to for nine months since being named Steve Kragthorpe's successor.

During a press conference Monday, Strong kept calm amid the big-game week storm. Poise that he passes on to staff and players.

"What you try to tell the guys is that it's Monday," he said. "We can't play the game today."

Besides, there is more time needed to prepare.

Aside from tactics, Strong wants his team to control emotions during the game.

"There's going to be big plays in this game," he said. "And how well you can control your emotions, and how well you can overcome those big plays (is key). Because, at the beginning, they will be sky high. Then about five minutes into it, everybody will settle down. ... What team can maintain the consistency to go play the football game? Because it's a rival game, you expect emotion. You expect everyone jumping up. It's our first home game in a new stadium with a big-time sellout, so our players will be jacked.

"Once we overcome all the atmosphere and just 'now let's come down guys and go play,' that's going to be critical for us."

The Cardinals aim to overcome recent history.

While UK has traveled to four consecutive bowl games, U of L has had three consecutive losing seasons. The Wildcats have won the last three games against the Cardinals.

Kentucky "should have a lot of confidence because of what has happened in the past," Strong said. "And we're one of those teams that is searching for an identity. We need to know who we are right now, and it's a team that will continue to build each game and will continue to get better in each game."

What Strong would like for that identity to be is, in a word, aggressive.

With a newly installed spread formation and a wealth of experience, expect the Cardinals to be aggressive on offense. Quarterback Adam Froman and running backs Vic Anderson and Bilal Powell all come game-tested. Strong said the offensive line is "the glue of our football team." And a receiving corps, spurred by confident junior-college transfer Josh Bellamy, is the most improved unit since spring drills.

Special teams, including kicker Chris Philpott and return man Bellamy, have looked good in practice.

Will the defense be up to snuff, though?

"You just want to be an aggressive team," Strong said. "The team that when it walks out there, we know we're going to just go play this game, we're going to be very aggressive and we're going to attack people."

The Cards are, according to Strong, undersized on the defensive line and inexperienced in the secondary.

To counter UK's size, Strong says his defense will rely on speed and quickness.

"What you can't do when you're little, you just can't allow people to lock in on you, and that's why we're going to have to do some movement," Strong said. "We can't blitz them all the time, but we need to move (our players) just to give them a chance because we're not very big."

If the plan works, size won't matter.