LOUISVILLE KY - SEPTEMBER 04: The Louisville Cardinals take to field before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 4 2010 in Louisville Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Louisville vs. Murray State - Thursday September 1, 2011 - 6:00 pm - ESPNU
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium - Louisville, KY
Point Spread - Louisville -28.5
Louisville kicks off its second season under head coach Charlie Strong, trying to build on the positive momentum of the 2010 season that saw them improve from 4-8 in 2009 to 7-6 with a bowl win. The Cardinals relied heavily on a large senior class that is gone now, and will instead look to young but touted recruits from the past two season to fill in several key positions. Their opponent will be a nice opening test, as Murray State runs one of the fastest and complex spread-style passing offenses in the FCS football.
Murray State (6-5)
Year two of the post-Kragthorpe rebuilding project for Charlie Strong begins with the first foe of the Kragthorpe era, in-state FCS school Murray State. Four years ago, Louisville scored on the first pay from scrimmage on the way to a 73-10 demolition of the Racers. My what a difference four years makes. Louisville enters the 2011 season with some wind at its back after the amazing improvement shown last year and a stellar recruiting class signed in February. But there are as many questions and challenges as there are encouraging signs heading into 2011, but at least we actually get to see them play instead of wondering any more.
Last year, Louisville was content to run dynamic tailback Bilal Powell behind a senior laden offensive line and then use the play-action pass to punish teams that jammed the box. Powell and that offensive line are now gone, so the offense will be forced to undergo some changes. Five new starters will take the field tonight, including a freshman and a redshirt freshman. Tailback should still be a team strength as senior Victor Anderson and sophomore Jeremy Wright will split the load carried by Powell last year. At quarterback, local folk hero Will Stein will start, but freshman phenom Teddy Bridgewater will also see time as he is groomed for the future. While fans eagerly await the new quarterbacks, it is the wide receiver position that should provide the brightest hope for the future as several highly touted underclassmen will see playing time. The Racers defense will feature former Kentucky linebacker Qua Huzzie in the starting lineup, and it's hard to see them being able to stop Louisville on the ground, even with the new offensive linemen.
The interesting battle tonight will be the Murray State offense against the young, but talented Louisville defense. Louisville is stout in the front seven and is solid at safety, but will be playing a ton of freshmen and redshirt freshmen at the cornerback and nickel positions. That's not a good thing against a Murray State offense that is reminiscent of the old Hal Mumme/Mike Leach wide open passing offenses. Last season the Racers struggled early, but found their legs in the offense and finished the season averaging well over 300 yards per game through the air. The challenge for Murray State will be protecting quarterback Casey Brockman. The challenge for Louisville will be to protect its young corners by getting pressure with the front four and not have to rely on blitzes (something they had to do often in 2010). Unlike last season, Louisville will have a solid rotation of 8-10 defensive linemen that should help them keep from wearing down in games. That will help against the Racers offense that runs a hurry up, no huddle attack. The chess match should be fun to watch.
Prediction: Louisville 35 Murray State 13