Strong: Miami has the 'best offense that we've seen'
The Cardinals are set to leave the American Athletic Conference this July, joining the departed Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange. They’re ready to use Miami as a way to get their feet wet.
“We'd like to see for the other conference opponents that we'll be playing next year that we can compete in this conference,” coach Charlie Strong told reporters during Friday’s press conference in Orlando. “We're coming in new next season. But it's going to be a measure stick for us, like I said earlier, and we're going to have an opportunity just to see how far we need to go and what we need to do.
“It's all about recruiting,” he added. “We know we have to recruit. We have to go get better, but this is going to be a great match-up for us.”
There’s no question that Miami is the best team Louisville will have faced all season, bringing a roster that is far more talented than those of the AAC. The Cards’ schedule combines for a record of 60-85, including six teams that won three games or less.
But the same could have been said last season, as Louisville limped into the Sugar Bowl only to destroy one of the SEC’s top programs in the Florida Gators. Preparation was key then, and it’ll be the biggest factor once again.
“When you look at those (Miami) wide receivers and when they can match up wide receiver-wise, they can get down the field,” said Strong. “That's one thing that if a guy runs a 4-3 or 4-4, he plays like it. You know, a lot of times guys say I run a 4-4 but they play like they run a 4-8. Those receivers, they play like they run a 4-3 and a 4-4 and Morris does a great job of getting the ball down the field.
“You can look at a lot of passes and you think it's going to be overthrown but those receivers; they can run and go get it. And that's what we have to do. We have to do a great job of covering and not giving up the big play. Our defensive backs, their hands are going to be full. They're going to have to be able to go and they're going to have to be able to run. But it's going to be a good match-up for us and we just know this on defense to play smart and not give up the big play.”
Miami’s offensive skill players present matchup issues for just about any defense, but it’ll be particularly interesting to see how safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor perform. Neither have seen a corps like the Hurricanes bear in their three- and four-year careers.
And that’s coming from their head coach.
“Well, you look at that team and you watch how it's just developed from the game,” Strong said of Miami. “It got better and better from the start of the season to the end of the season—a very physical team—done a great job at balancing the running and the passing game on offense and then defensively very aggressive.
“And we know our hands are going to be full offensively. I will say this: In our four years that we've been here, it's the best offense our defense will match up with, the best offense that we've seen since I've been here. It's going to be a good match-up for our defense. And offensively we're going to be able to control the football and we cannot give up the big play on defense.”
That could be saying a lot, considering Louisville lost to explosive Cincinnati and Oregon State offensive units in 2010, and then held Florida to 23 points in last year’s bowl game.
Miami enters tonight scoring 35.9 points per game (26th in the country), scoring 41 points or more in five different performances. Louisville puts the nation’s eighth-best pass defense on the field and has allowed over 17 points in just two games.
The Russell Athletic Bowl is set to kickoff at 6:45 p.m. at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
*All quotes were obtained first hand.