LOUISVILLE — If Kentucky won't provide bulletin-board material to motivate his team, Louisville Coach Charlie Strong will.
With the Cardinals set to visit UK for Saturday's annual Governor's Cup rivalry, the second-year head of the program used his weekly press conference Monday to praise the 2-0 Cats and poor-mouth his Cards.
Louisville (1-1) is coming off Friday's 24-17 upset loss to Florida International.
"Very frustrated and disappointed about the loss the other night, but we're just not a very good football team," Strong said. "As a coaching staff, we didn't coach very well. As players, we're not playing very well."
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
One thing that Strong sees his team lacking is confidence. Strong also seemed short on confidence Monday, but that may be posturing to fire up his players.
"We're going to go face a team now that is a very good football team. If you look at Kentucky, I don't know if we can beat Kentucky right now," Strong said. "Kentucky returns 10 starters on defense. Their whole offensive line is back, which is the nucleus of their football team right now. They've beaten us four straight years. They've been to five straight bowl games. We've been to one bowl game in four years.
"They've out-recruited us, so we still have a ways to go."
While Kentucky's wins over Western Kentucky and Central Michigan have been less than overwhelming, Strong talked about a contrast from his program.
"They've been down in two games and they've been able to come back. We've been down and we haven't been able to come back," Strong said. "They continue to play. They're playing with a lot of confidence. Defensively, they're coming from everywhere. Rick Minter's done a good job with that defense, of getting them prepared to play, To watch them blitz. They're playing a lot of 'man' coverage, which they haven't done in the past.
"Then, offensively, (quarterback Morgan) Newton's doing a good job. The thing he can do is he can throw the deep ball. He can throw the deep ball and (La'Rod) King can run underneath, and they've got guys that can go get it. Then you look at the back, (Josh) Clemons, a true freshman that ended up having a really good game.
"But the nucleus is that offensive line because the offensive line does a good job of protecting him. And, defensively, when you have 10 starters back you have a chance to be pretty good, and they're playing pretty good right now."
All of which sounds like Louisville has no chance.
After agreeing that UK is the better team, defensive end Greg Scruggs and quarterback Will Stein showed some of the fire kindled by their coach.
"That's how he honestly feels. So I guess you can call it motivation," Scruggs said of Strong's comments. "But it just gives you a little bit more to work for."
"Right now, Kentucky is the better team," Stein said. "They're 2-0. They return 10 guys on defense. All five of their offensive lineman are back. So they definitely have the better squad right now, as he puts it.
"But we're using that as motivation. He's a big-time motivator, so a lot of what he says, we can't take it literally. We're definitely going to use that to our advantage this week and prepare like we're going to win the game."
UK has won the last four meetings, including the last two in Commonwealth Stadium, even though U of L outgained the Wildcats in both of those games.
Over in Lexington, UK Coach Joker Phillips was asked about Strong's post-game comment Friday that the Cats have the better team.
"I said it the other day. We'll get to see," Phillips said. "It's hard to judge teams when they haven't played common opponents. Who knows how well we would have done against Murray State and FIU? Who knows how well they would have done against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan? The way to judge that is play each other. We do play each other this week so we'll be able to know after this game."
Jerry Tipton contributed to this article.