Louisville succeeds on senior strength

Louisville's Doug Beaumont had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty in the second quarter of Saturday's game against UConn. Not to be denied, Beaumont took another one back 74 yards for a score in the third quarter, this time without any yellow laundry on the field.

That was only a brief measure of Beaumont's resiliency. The senior receiver had to undergo knee surgery after the third game at Oregon State, but he missed only two games before coming back at full strength against Connecticut. Beaumont took home a device that put air pressure on his leg, sleeping with it on every night. Then at 6 a.m., he'd report to the team trainers for treatment.

"I woke up early every morning so I'd make sure to be in there first thing," he said. "When I had class, I'd go to class and then be right back in there."

Head coach Charlie Strong didn't expect Beaumont to return so quickly but said that the receiver "wore our trainers out."

"He's special," Strong said. "He's driven and he works so hard. That's why I always say, just give me 10 Beaumonts, and I'll be fine."

Strong hasn't figured out any cloning mechanisms just yet. But while he doesn't have 10 Beaumonts, he may have the next best thing: A large senior class that was willing to follow a new head coach.

Strong could have come into Louisville and shaken things up completely, deciding to go with young players and fresh recruits instead of the guys who'd been a part of the previous three non-winning seasons. But he saw that the Cardinals had a 27-man senior class that could be their best attribute this year.

"Anytime you have seniors play well, you always have a chance," he said.

What's impressive is that Strong and his staff have, in many cases, gotten these seniors to play the best football of their careers. For example:

  • Running back Bilal Powell has already passed the 1,000-yard mark, shattering his career single-season high of 392 yards;

  • Quarterback Adam Froman has greatly improved his efficiency and proficiency in his second year of starting;

  • The offensive line, featuring four senior starters, has paved the way for the best rushing attack in the Big East;

  • On defense, linebacker Brandon Heath, cornerback Johnny Patrick and defensive linemen Malcolm Tatum and Rodney Gnat are all playing key roles;

  • Beaumont, who had never scored a touchdown before this season, now has two scores.

"They are a veteran team," said Dave Wannstedt, whose Pitt Panthers host Louisville on Saturday. "I think they've all bought into what Charlie is trying to do, and he's getting most out of them."

Strong plays down his role in getting these seniors to reach new heights. But he laid it at their feet to break Louisville out of its losing ways this season, and he and his staff have put those players in better positions to succeed. He says he didn't have to do much to convince them of that.

"They wanted to win," he said. "And they felt like our staff knew enough about winning that they could buy into it. I put it on them and gave them the leadership opportunity to go and lead this football team."

Those seniors are a big reason the Cardinals have already matched last year's win total. With guys as hungry and resilient as Beaumont, they might not be done yet.