WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Cats, Cards playing guesing game

Charlie Strong isn't the kind of guy who
leaves things to chance.
The coach charged with restoring Louisville to the glory of its
not-so distant past is a stickler for details, monitoring
everything from the number of available towels in the locker room
to where his players park their cars.
Strong's meticulousness has instilled a renewed sense of
discipline at Louisville, keeping the Cardinals on their toes and
delighting a fan base turned off by the decidedly more relaxed -
and ultimately unsuccessful - approach of former coach Steve
Kragthorpe.
Still, after eight months of sweating the small stuff, even
Strong isn't so sure about some of the big stuff, like what kind of
team he's got on his hands heading into Saturday's Governor's Cup
showdown with Kentucky.
"I just don't know who we are right now," Strong said. "We're
searching for an identity."
A certain air of mystery may not necessarily be a bad thing,
particularly for a team coming off its worst season since 1997.
Strong brings in a new coaching staff, one that features
Louisville's fourth offensive and defensive coordinators in as many
seasons.
Former UNLV coach Mike Sanford will bring the spread offense he
perfected under Urban Meyer at Utah in 2003-04. Former Florida
secondary coach Vance Bedford will partner with Strong to help a
defense that ranked 91st in the country last year.
It has sent Kentucky coach Joker Phillips to the film vault
trying to figure out what to expect in a series the Wildcats have
dominated in recent years. Kentucky has won three straight over its
archrival, swinging the balance of power in the state firmly back
to Lexington.
"We've got to be mentally prepared for a lot of different
things," Phillips said. "It's just been a pretty difficult team
to prepare for."
Well, not entirely.
Phillips has spent enough time watching Strong's talented
defenses at Florida have its way with the Wildcats over the last
seven seasons to know what to expect whenever Kentucky has the
ball.
"It's going to be a blitz-o-rama," Phillips said. "He'll be
blitzing as soon as he comes out of the locker room. It's just what
they do."
Even if the Cardinals won't do it with the same kind of athletes
Strong had at Florida. That's the least of his worries at the
moment.
He knows his teams lacks depth and size. He can work on that.
Right now, he'd like to see some confidence. It's a rare commodity
in a program that has gone 15-21 since winning the Orange Bowl four
seasons ago.
"What these players have heard (for years) is 'You're not very
good, you can't do this, you can't do that,"' Strong said. "It's
a confidence thing with them now because we have nothing to show
for it."
The only way to get it is to win. Though the more experienced
Wildcats are a slight favorite, they have questions of their own.
Can anybody else besides do-everything wide receiver Randall
Cobb catch the ball? Can quarterback Mike Hartline do more than
just manage the game? How will eight first-year players react while
playing in front of 56,000 mostly hostile fans?
"The biggest thing is how those guys are going to react?"
Phillips said.
It's a question that's not limited to Kentucky's players. Though
Phillips has spent the last 24 years preparing to make his head
coaching debut, he knows things will be different when he walks
into Cardinal Stadium and sees his longtime friend on the other
sideline.
"I'm sure maybe Saturday morning I'll be hugging the toilet
somewhere," Phillips said.


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