LOUISVILLE — Louisville football coach Charlie Strong's fiery locker room speeches are already becoming a part of school lore.
Yet the first-year coach doesn't think he'll need to say anything ahead of Friday's game against rival Cincinnati. All the motivation his surging team needs can be found in the memory of last season's 41-10 beatdown by the Bearcats.
"How bad they beat us last year, you probably don't need to say much" more, Strong said.
The Bearcats dominated the Keg of Nails last fall by holding the Cardinals to 275 yards and doing whatever it wanted against Louisville's overmatched defense.
But the Cardinals hardly look like the same team that limped to a 1-6 Big East record last season. While the players are largely the same, Strong's arrival has provided a spark that was sorely lacking during Steve Kragthorpe's tenure.
Louisville (3-2) pounded Memphis 56-0 last week to win consecutive games for the first time in nearly two years. The rushing attack is among the best in the country and the team is suddenly brimming with confidence.
The resurgence has been led by their senior class, particularly running back Bilal Powell and quarterback Adam Froman.
Powell rushed for a career-high 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers. Froman, meanwhile, threw four first-half TD passes against the Tigers. He threw just six scoring passes all of last season.
"Our seniors are playing their best football and it has allowed our younger guys to come along by watching them," Strong said. "In order to have success your seniors have to play their best their senior year. A lot of times seniors worry about their future and what's going to happen with them.
"But these guys are locked in and they're focused because their main thing is they need to have a good season. They want to go out as a group of seniors knowing they were able to go out and get the program established and get it headed back in the right direction."
The Cardinals will get a chance to prove their progress against Cincinnati (2-3). The two-time defending Big East champions have gone 13-1 in conference play during their reign and are starting to get settled under first-year coach Butch Jones. The Bearcats hung tough in a two-point loss to Oklahoma last month and destroyed Miami (Ohio) 45-3 last weekend.
"We haven't played well in the conference the last three years, so we need to go play well," said Strong.
The Cardinals certainly appear to be peaking, particularly on offense. They rank 18th nationally in rushing (218 yards per game) and 21st in total offense (461.4 ypg) in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Louisville posted 575 yards of total offense in its 34-24 win at Arkansas State on Oct. 2 and 574 in its blowout of Memphis.
Powell ranks eighth nationally (137.8 ypg) in individual rushing.
The going will get significantly tougher against a Cincinnati team that ranks eighth in the FBS in rushing defense (84.8 ypg) and gave up just 82 to Oklahoma.