Published November 22, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Charlie Strong hopes to send this year's senior class out with a win.
For all the success the Louisville coach has achieved in four years with the Cardinals (9-1, 5-1 American Athletic Conference), he will be seeking his first Senior Day victory when Memphis (3-6, 1-4) visits. Twenty seniors will say goodbye, and it could also be the final home game for junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, projected as a first-round NFL draft choice next spring.
Bridgewater, whose Heisman Trophy prospects fell following Louisville's loss to Central Florida, has been mum on his future. Strong said this week that "people do come back," noting Heisman winner Tim Tebow's return for his senior season at Florida.
"I don't know that it's going to be his last game," Strong said of Bridgewater. "We got time to worry about that. He's a junior, so he shouldn't even be concerned about that. The only thing he's concerned about is getting ready to come back (for) another year and that's the only thing we're going to worry about with him."
For now, it's about the No. 21 Cardinals beating the Tigers with a senior class that has been instrumental in the their rise into national prominence.
Strong recruited many of Louisville's key players such as linebacker Preston Brown, defensive tackles Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn, running back Senorise Perry and safety Hakeem Smith. The group has gone 34-15 the past four seasons, won two Big East Conference titles and played in three straight bowl games including January's BCS Sugar Bowl.
The Cardinals' 33-23 upset of Florida in New Orleans is considered the program's biggest win and will likely be replayed when the seniors are honored.
"It's going to be emotional," said Dunn, a Louisville native.
While a BCS bid is probably out of the question for the Cardinals, they remain in play for the Russell Athletic and Belk bowls on Dec. 28 against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. But they first must get a win against Memphis, which comes in with a two-game winning streak and the AAC's No. 3 defense behind Louisville and Cincinnati.
The schools haven't met since the Cardinals waxed the Tigers 56-0 in 2010, Strong's first season. This time around, Louisville aims for an elusive victory to send its veterans out on a high note.
"You hate to see this time of year come, and the reason why is because of our seniors," Strong said. "You talk about guys that have put so much into this program. ... With two games remaining they're 20-3 the last two years and have an opportunity to go to a fourth (straight) bowl game."
Here are five things to look for when No. 21 Louisville hosts Memphis in Saturday's home finale:
CLEAN SLATE: Bridgewater aims to start a new touchdown streak after seeing his school-record 21-game run with at least one touchdown pass end last week against Houston. His first game without a TD since the 2012 opener against Kentucky also ended with a season-low 203 yards passing, his lowest since throwing for just 85 yards in a downpour at Southern Mississippi. Bridgewater needs just seven TDs to pass Brian Brohm (30) for the season record.
TIGERS HOLD THE LINE: After allowing opponents to convert 17 of 19 red zone possessions the first half of the season, Memphis defense has allowed just 6 of 12 conversions the past three games and recovered a South Florida fumble for a touchback after the Bulls drove to the 1. The Tigers' .742 red zone percentage ranks 14th.
LOUISVILLE'S STINGY DEFENSE: Since losing to UCF the Cardinals have allowed an average of just 188 yards and 8.6 points in victories over USF, Connecticut and Houston. Last week's win 20-13 over the Cougars was particularly impressive as Louisville yielded just 41 second-half yards and help a seven-point lead hold up.
MEMPHIS' BIG FOOT: There's a big reason Tigers freshman kicker Jake Elliott is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. He is 14 of 15 on field goal attempts including three in last week's win over USF, highlighted by a school- and conference-record 56-yarder. That milestone made Elliott 3-of-3 from 50-plus yards.
MEN IN BLACK? Saturday's senior sendoff sparked questions over whether the Cardinals would finally break out all-black alternate uniforms. Strong quickly quashed that debate after beating Houston, saying, "we wear red at home and white on the road. That's who we are." Perhaps, but given the close relationship between the coach and his players and the fact that Louisville will bid farewell to 20 upperclassmen, don't be shocked to see a different look when they take the field.