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September 16, 2011

Strong wants toughness in running attack

In most years, including last season, the one constant in the otherwise unpredictable Louisville-Kentucky football series is this:

The team with the most rushing yardage is the winner. If that holds true in the 18th renewal Saturday night (7 o'clock, ESPNU) in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, the Cardinals (1-1) are in trouble because their rushing attack has yet to make an appearance this fall. In this series, that's not a good omen.

UofL is averaging just 121 yards rushing per game, and a large chunk of that is due to a 48-yard run on a fake punt by Chris Philpott against Murray State. Alaternating running backs Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright have had trouble picking up yardage consistently.

Not surprisingly, UofL coach Charlie Strong wants to see that change against UK.

"If you can't run the football then you're showing you're not a tough football team and you have to have toughness in your program," Strong said. "How do you have toughness? Go run the football. So we have to run the ball and our offensive line knows we have to do a better job of opening up holes, staying with our blocks, knocking people back.

"It's all about the run. We tell our defense is the thing YOU can't do is allow people to run the ball against you because anytime they run the ball against you they're beating you up front. With this game, it's going to be won up front, so it's our offensive line vs. their defensive line and our defensive line vs. their offensive line. So who's going to win that matchup?"

Because of their inability to run effectively, the Cardinals have become a one-dimensional team, which allows opposing defenses to be more cognizant of the pass. UofL ranks 90th among 120 FBS teams in rushing yardage per game.

"It's always good to be balanced," UofL quarterback Will Stein said. "Being a good run team opens up a lot of the pass plays with play action, so it's definitely good to get that started early and often. It hasn't been that way the past two weeks, but I'm confident our guys are going to keep driving. I'm not going to get down on them. We're not gonna be sad or mad about the last two weeks; we're just going to keep pushing forward."

On the other hand, UofL's passing game -- with its trio of talented rookies in DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris -- has been above average in the first two outings. The Cards rank No. 23 in the FBS with 294 passing yards per game and Stein is 18th at 287.50 (49th in pass efficiency at 140, more than 100 points behind the leader, Robert Griffin III of Baylor).

"We have a lot of confidence in our passing game right now," Stein said. "I'm confident throwing to any of those guys. If teams want to press up, our outside receivers we have a chance for a lot of big plays."

While UofL hasn't established the run yet, Kentucky has fared considerably better. The Wildcats rank 54th nationally at 161.5 yards rushing per game and have perhaps a budding star in freshman Josh Clemons. Clemons (5-10, 200) sparked the Cat to their 27-13 win over Central Michigan with an 87-yard touchdown run, finishing with 126 yards on 14 carries, which earned him SEC Rookie of the Week honors.

"He's a strong, tough runner and he's a guy we can't allow to get going," Strong said.

Even last season when Louisville had a premier running back in Bilal Powell and ranked 34th nationally as a team in rushing yardage at 175.0 ypg, UK won the ground battle -- and the game -- 230 yards to 190.


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