Louisville is off to its best start in six seasons, but coach Charlie Strong is expecting a little more from his young team.
After winning their last two games by close margins, the 19th-ranked Cardinals will try for an improved showing when they visit struggling former conference rival Southern Mississippi on Saturday night.
Louisville is 4-0 for the first time since it won its first eight games in 2006 en route to a school-best 12-1 finish and an Orange Bowl victory. The Cardinals, though, have taken their last two contests by a combined 12 points.
They led 36-7 at halftime against North Carolina on Sept. 15 but needed a late defensive stand to hold on for a 39-34 victory. Louisville trailed for the first time this season in its first road game last Saturday, but Teddy Bridgewater threw for a score and ran for another to help his team to a 28-21 win over Florida International.
Bridgewater, who passed for another touchdown earlier in the game, threw his first two interceptions of the season. After completing 72 of his first 88 passes, he went 19 of 36 for a season-low 194 yards against the Golden Panthers.
"You want to see us each week go get better and become a dominating team," Strong said. "If you look at it, we should have finished the game off against North Carolina and we didn't. A dominating team finishes that game off.
"Next week, we go on the road (against FIU) and we could've played a lot better. We're up 28-14 and probably could have went and got some more scores."
Strong does see encouraging signs from a team that features 10 sophomore starters and only 10 scholarship seniors.
"The toughness is there and it's everything you're looking for. Those games we were losing by seven last year, we're winning by seven this season," he said.
When they were members of Conference USA from 1996-2004, Louisville and Southern Miss combined to win six outright league titles and a share of one other.
The teams most recently met in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Dec. 21, 2010, with the Cardinals rallying in the fourth quarter to win 31-28.
Southern Miss doesn't appear poised to provide as competitive of a game this time.
The Golden Eagles are 0-3 under new coach Ellis Johnson after winning a school-record 12 games and their first C-USA title since 2003 last season under Larry Fedora.
The latest defeat was a 42-17 drubbing at Western Kentucky on Saturday. The Golden Eagles were outgained 560-264 and didn't score a touchdown until Tyre Bracken caught Ricky Lloyd's 13-yard pass with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
Southern Miss ranks near the bottom of the FBS with 17.0 points and 282.7 yards per game. It's also among the worst defensive teams with averages of 38.3 points and 473.3 yards allowed.
"We just have to keep grinding away," Johnson said. "It doesn't get any easier. We are playing one of the best football teams next week (Louisville). ... It's a tough way to grow up, but we are going to have to grow up or we are going to suffer."
Louisville, winner of five straight in the series, is making its first trip to Hattiesburg since a 20-17 overtime victory Nov. 14, 2002. The Cardinals are 3-11 there but have won in their last two visits.
- Charlie Strong