Those looking for some inexpensive family fun this Saturday can find some at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium when UofL will offer a free preview of its 2012 football team.
The Cardinals will take the the field shortly after noon for the Wendy's Wonderful Kids Red-White Spring Game, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. The game will pit the offense vs. the defense in a regular game situations. The first half will be timed as a regular game, and the second half will be timed depending on depth.
"We have had a good spring," said coach Charlie Strong. "It's been very competitive, and the players have given great effort. I hope we can have a huge crowd on Saturday and really show off our team to our great fans."
Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will lead the first unit and score points for the Red Team, while senior quarterback Will Stein will be the White Team's quarterback. The gates will open at noon, and the parking lots will be open for tailgating at 8 a.m.
The Cardinals, who started their final week of spring practice Tuesday, return 18 starters from last season's Big East championship team, including Bridgewater, the Big East Freshman of the Year.
"We knew he was good last year, but the progress he has made this spring and the job coach (Shawn) Watson has done with him is unbelievable," defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said. "We knew he was a special player. He is so composed. He commands respect. The guys follow him, and he directs the offense. He doesn't have to say much."
Bridgewater's comfort level is increasing with more reps. During the team's final closed scrimmage last Saturday, Bridgewater threw for more than 170 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker, who freed himself with a great move to the inside.
"Both sides made plays this morning," said Bridgewater after the scrimmage. "We were able to move the football at times, and the defense stepped up and made plays. It was a good competition out there. Our offensive line gave me some time to throw, and we got the ball down the field. We also ran the football pretty well. I thought everyone ran the football well today."
Hurtt said the offense has been running smoothly with Bridgewater under center.
"They just know when he gets into the huddle he has command of it," Hurtt said. "He is going to play within the offense. He wants to spread the ball around. He doesn't panic or get frazzled. He is going to stay within himself whether it's a great play or a bad play. It's great having him as our signal caller."
Bridgewater's backup, Stein, is having a good spring as well. During Saturday's scrimmage he scrambled for a couple of touchdowns and also threw a TD pass to tight end Gerald Christian. Having two experienced quarterbacks returning, as well as a host of offensive talent and a defense that seemed to get better each game last season are the reasons the Cardinals are considered one of the favorites in the Big East for 2012.
Louisville's 12-game schedule includes seven home games - "I love seven home games!!" Charlie Strong tweeted on March 27.
Hurtt cautioned about expectations, though.
"We don't need to worry about it," he said. "We need to play. All the expectations are fine. We were picked last the first two years we were in here. We don't worry about that. We have to buckle up and go play. We have to practice. You have to prepare and do all the things necessary to be a champion. No matter what people say about how bad you may be or how good you may be, you have to prepare the same way every time. Our mindset won't change on that, and our coaching staff won't change on that message that's delivered to the kids. All the accolades and the press clippings, we ignore all that."
The Cardinals seem to be ignoring the hype and increasing the hustle through the first three weeks of spring practice. During a physical two-hour scrimmage last Saturday the defense got off to a strong start, forcing three straight three-and-outs before the offense got going behind a strong running game. Senorise Perry, who played sparingly at running back last season, was the star of the scrimmage, having a huge day that included a 75-yard TD run. Jeremy Wright, Dominique Brown and Corvin Lamb all carried for more than 45 yards. Perry had a team-best 17 carries, while Brown and Lamb each toted the football 12 times. While those figures are cause for celebration among the offensive staff, the defensive staff looks at it differently.
"So much of being good in stopping the run is understanding what their responsibilities are and making sure we fit those things right," Hurtt said. "Our first year we gave up 145 yards rushing a game. This past year we dropped to 100 yards a game. Our goal as a defense is to keep people under a 100 yards a game.... We have to give credit to our offense, too. Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright are doing a great job of running behind their pads. As a football team we are getting a lot better, but we need to do a better job at times."
Place-kickers John Wallace and Andrew Fletcher booted short field goals. Wallace connected from 22 and Fletcher from 27 yards. The Wallace field goal was the result of a Kamal Hogan sack after the Cardinals drove the ball to the goal line.
According to UofL football's sports information director Rocco Gasparro, cornerback Terell Floyd continues to have a good spring while defensive linemen Brandon Dunn, Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin have been active on the defensive front.
"I feel like the defensive line has really progressed," said Hurtt. "I feel like they have done a lot of good things. Brandon Dunn has really changed his body. He has dropped some weight and has been really productive and has really improved from last year. He and Marcus Smith have really made tremendous strides, as has B.J. Dubose. I'm proud of them as a group. Our second group of defensive tackles, (converted offensive lineman) Hunter Stout and (redshirt freshman) Dominique Dishmon, have gone out and competed. We have done a good job. There have been some runs that have been popped. As a front seven, we have to get on the same page."