A big win over an in-state rival to open the season would make most coaches happy. Louisville's Charlie Strong says there's always room for improvement.
Strong's 22nd-ranked Cardinals meet Missouri State of the FCS for the first time Saturday in Louisville.
The Cardinals (1-0) kicked off the season Sunday with a 32-14 victory over Kentucky behind 466 total yards of offense and a defense that had two sacks, recovered two fumbles and held the Wildcats to 93 yards on the ground.
However, the Cardinals surrendered a total of 373 yards while possessing the ball for fewer than 24 minutes, a statistic that's a little troubling to Strong.
"We just could've played better," he said. "I just expect more, maybe because I'm a defensive coach and I'm around the defense a lot."
Last season, the Cardinals improved to 2-1 by beating Kentucky but followed with consecutive losses to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati. Louisville finished 7-6 after losing to North Carolina State in a bowl game.
"You like to think that we're more mature now that we've played a lot of games," Strong said. "You can always go back to last season, and we beat Kentucky and we followed it up and got beat. We cannot allow that to happen and we're at home."
Under Strong, now in his third season guiding Louisville, the Cardinals have won both their matchups against Missouri Valley Conference foes, but they've hardly been blowouts. Louisville got past Eastern Kentucky by 10 points in 2010 before topping Murray State 21-9 last year.
However, the defense stepped up, allowing a combined 521 yards in those wins.
Though Missouri State is 1-27 all-time against FBS schools, Strong won't let his team take the Bears (0-1) lightly.
"They return all starters on defense. ... Our challenge is going to be getting our players ready to go play," Strong said. "... Now, we just hope that in our performance, our practice and our preparation, we cannot allow them to step back. We have to continue to prepare and continue to get this team ready to go play. We have a short week."
His offense showed no problem moving the ball last week against an SEC opponent, scoring on five of the first seven possessions. Teddy Bridgewater – the 2011 Big East rookie of the year – completed 19 of 21 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns, while Senorise Perry (108 yards) and Jeremy Wright (105 yards) spearheaded the rushing attack.
Missouri State appeared primed to pull off a major upset in its opener last Saturday, tied 9-9 midway through the third quarter at then-No. 22 Kansas State. The Bears, though, gave up 35 points in the fourth en route to a 51-9 loss.
Missouri State totaled 418 yards, including 257 by Missouri transfer Ashton Glaser on 22-of-44 passing.
"It is a team that has a spread offense ... so, they do a good job of throwing the ball around," Strong said.
Another player Louisville will want to watch is wideout Dorian Buford. The junior caught seven passes for 114 yards after amassing 98 yards on 10 receptions in 10 games last season.
- Charlie Strong