A-State Matchup With Louisville a Homecoming for Red Wolves as Well as Charlie Strong

by Jim Harris  on Friday, Oct. 1, 2010 1:16 pm  

Native Arkansas Charlie Strong is in his first season as Louisville's head football coach. (Photo by Louisville Sports Information)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Arkansas State will welcome back alumni for its annual football homecoming on Saturday night, while Louisville Coach Charlie Strong will be scanning the stands for familiar faces from the state as he tries to feel at home.

Arkansas State (1-3) and Louisville (1-3) meet at 6 p.m. at ASU Stadium. For Strong, the Batesville native who attended UCA and who toiled for 27 years as a defensive coach and coordinator at such stops at South Carolina and most recently Florida, it will mark his first return home as a head football coach. Strong, a finalist last year for the Broyles Award for the top assistant in the country, got the Louisville job just hours after losing out in the award presentation in Little Rock. He took over a Cardinals program that bottomed out under three years of Steve Kragthorpe's direction after Kragthorpe replaced Bobby Petrino, who is now Arkansas' coach.

Louisville and Kragthorpe did manage to beat ASU 21-13 last year in Kentucky. ASU was able to get a rare BCS conference team to return a game to Jonesboro, and with homecoming and Arkansas not playing this weekend, Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts expects a large crowd for the Big East foe. The Red Wolved drew about 23,000 for the only other home game so far, a 34-21 win over fellow Sun Belt Conference team Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 18.

"We're two plays away from being 3-1 instead of 1-3," said Roberts, whose Red Wolves lost a heart-breaker at Troy last week, surrending a touchdown in the final seconds after taking a 28-27 lead with 50 seconds left.

Strong's first head coaching win came in Week 2 at the expense of Eastern Kentucky. He said earlier this week he was looking forward to a return to Arkansas.

“I grew up about an hour and 15 minutes away. It’s good that I get to go back into Arkansas State with our football team. There will be a few family members in attendance.”

After rallying to play Kentucky close in the season opener, 23-16, and then going to Oregon State on Sept 18 and falling 35-28 in another coming-up-short rally, it's apparent that Strong has his Cardinals playing hard.

“Each week, you like to see the confidence and improvement," he said. Now that we played Oregon State and had a week off we need to get back into it and improve. Each week we talk about improving.”

Roberts, a Little Rock native who has spent most of his coaching career in Arkansas, says he's met Strong in passing but doesn't know him.

"I have a lot of respect for what he’s done in his career," Roberts said Thursday during a telephone conference call. "I know he's a class individual and is great for our profession."

Strong, noted for his defensive wizardry, has found his first task at Louisville being to restore some defense to the Cardinals. He's having to start a number of younger players, such as Hakeem Smith, Brandon Dunn, B.J. Burton and safety Shenard Holton. Arkansas State, playing at home, may present quite a challenge with the offensive numbers the Red Wolves have managed under first-year offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze and sophomore quarterback Ryan Aplin.

“They spread the ball around," Strong said. "The quarterback is really the main focus for them because he does a good job spreading the ball around.”



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