A day after an unconvincing seven-point win over an overmatched opponent, Charlie Strong delivered his players a pretty cut-and-dry message.
"If you want to be the football team you want to be, if you want to be a good team, then continue on the level you are," the Louisville coach recalled during his Monday news conference. "If you want to be a great team, then we can step it up and we can get better. And that's what you want to see us become: One of those teams where we can step it up and get better."
Yes, the Cardinals are 4-0 and ranked No. 19 as they prepare to close their nonconference slate Saturday at winless Southern Miss. But Strong knows the recent efforts from his young team -- nearly blowing a 29-point halftime lead to North Caroina before winning a tight contest at FIU --0 will simply not cut it if the program wishes to live up to its billing as preseason Big East favorites.
Louisville played 10 quarters of football as good as anyone in the country this season, but inconsistency has plagued the team during its last six frames. Strong said Monday that he saw a tight contest awaiting his team in Miami because of a practice week that featured too many dropped balls, overthrown passes and careless missed blocks.
"I said last week that it's a good thing we didn't beat [UNC] by 21 points, because we would've really had an issue going into Game 4," Strong said.
Such are the challenges with a young team facing big expectations. The tempo was off last week, and Strong said blame for that belongs as much on him and his staff for not conveying the same energy level that they demand from their players. A dominant team, he said, does not let the Tar Heels come within a play of completing a monumental comeback, nor does it let the Golden Panthers hang around until the end.
The offense cannot completely rely on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, either, as the sophomore who entered last weekend with a nearly 82-percent completion percentage ended up tossing his first two interceptions of the season.
"The thing about Teddy, he's going to make mistakes, and that's what we've got to realize," Strong said. "He's going to make mistakes just like everyone else, so when that happens it's just making sure that we could correct his fundamentals."
While going through the motions in practice will eventually reveal itself come game day, Strong feels the opposite also is true. Changing that mindset is something he and his staff will be looking to build upon heading into its third season of Big East play.
"With us being into the program three years, it's our football team," Strong said. "So it's the toughness is there. It's everything you're looking for. Those games we were losing by seven last year, we're winning by seven this year. So now that you've had them in your program, they understand it. They understand how to compete. They're playing with confidence and that's what you like about this football team now. You look at the past two seasons, this is just a totally different football team."