UK Football

Young U of L team trying to bounce back in time for Kentucky game

LOUISVILLE — Friday's stunning 24-17 loss to Florida International hurt Louisville. To hear the Cardinals tell, though, the wound is not mortal.

Quarterback Will Stein says his mind-set is "to come out this week with a purpose and not let this (FIU) game define us, and move forward."

The next step comes Saturday in the annual Governor's Cup match against Kentucky, in Commonwealth Stadium.

"Rivalry games are very exciting," Stein said. "Going into Commonwealth — last time we were there, we should have won (but lost 31-27 in 2009). So we're going to come in with a chip on our shoulder and we're going to be ready to play."

U of L (1-1), which came into the season with the second-lowest number of returning starters in the FBS, defeated Murray State 21-9 in its opener, with seven Cardinals making their first collegiate start and 20 players seeing their first collegiate action.

Through two games, Coach Charlie Strong has used 10 true freshmen.

"You get another week, and we have a lot of work to do," Strong said. "This team, it's going to be one of those roller-coaster years, and we understand that with the youth that we have.

"But we're going into a tough situation next week down at Commonwealth, playing UK. And right now UK's a better football team than us. Look at what they have and what we have. But it's so important that we have to learn from this (FIU) game and we have to learn from the mistakes we made."

All three Florida International touchdowns came on plays of more than 70 yards — Winston Fraser's 71-yard interception return and Wesley Carroll-to-T.Y. Hilton passes of 74 and 83 yards.

U of L's positives were overshadowed in defeat. Stein set career highs for completions and yards, going 30-for-43 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Josh Chichester caught six balls for a career-high 111 yards.

The defense held FIU to 45 rushing yards, the Panthers' fewest since a minus-3 total at Penn State in 2007.

"With the exception of those two big plays, honestly, I feel like we had an OK showing on defense," said Dexter Heyman, a senior linebacker who had U of L's lone sack Friday and recorded a tackle-for-loss for a sixth game in a row. "We really, for the most part, stopped the run. ... But one thing that you always worry about, especially with a young team, is maintaining control of the big play. Stopping the big play and how do you respond to those situations, etc., etc."

The big-play breakdowns exposed the most inexperienced part of the U of L defense — the secondary. Anthony Conner, a cornerback, is the lone senior, joined by a freshman cornerback, a sophomore safety and junior safety. Backups at all four positions are freshmen.

"We'll come back and watch film, we'll see our mistakes, and we're going to watch film of Kentucky and go from there," said strong safety Hakeem Smith, the sophomore. "It's big (the rivalry). ... We're just going to have to fight, use that as fuel, just go in there and execute."

Heyman puts the onus to win at UK squarely on the shoulders of the defense.

"I don't know how the game's going to play out but to win, to beat Kentucky, especially at Commonwealth, our defense has to outplay their defense," Heyman said. "That's what it's going to come down to. And if they score on defense once, that means we have to score twice.

"The way you bounce back is you show up on Sunday and you go to work. One thing we really have to realize is there are 10 more games left in this season. ... Football's all about attitude, and as long as we have a positive attitude coming into the week this week, for the most part, we can expect positive things to happen."

Strong's message for his players: "You can't accept losing. You have to go play. You play 60 minutes and you always give yourself a chance."