Entering the 2011 season, who would have thought Alex Kupper would be the veteran on the offensive line with just one career start. However, the loss of four starters on the offensive line and an injury to center Mario Benavides pushed Kupper to center as the Cardinals broke in four other first-time starters.
When the Cardinals took the field for their first offensive possession of the year against Murray State, Kupper, who made one start last season, was the starting center. Jake Smith, a red-shirt freshman, and John Miller, a true freshman, were the starters at guard, while seniors Hector Hernandez and Ryan Kessling were making their first career starts at tackle.
“Every game is going to be a building process,” said Kupper. “We all have one game under our belt and now we are trying to get better for this game and build on what we did last game.”
The Cardinals pulled out a 21-9 over Murray State in the opener, and scored on three of their first four possessions to take a 21-0 lead. However, mental mistakes, turnovers and penalties plagued the Cardinals in the second half.
Will Stein hit fellow Trinity graduate Scott Radcliff with a four-yard touchdown strike, while Victor Anderson scored on a two-yard run to make it 14-0. Another Louisville product, DeVante Parker, scored on an acrobatic 39-yard pass reception to close out the scoring for the Cardinals.
The offensive line allowed just one sack, allowing Stein more time to find his receivers. Naturally, Kupper was pleased with his unit in what was their first time playing together.
“We did some good things,” said Kupper. “We didn’t have a lot of mental errors. There are some technical issues we have to get addressed but other than that we played pretty well.”
The Cardinals prided themselves last season on being able to run the football, leading the BIG EAST Conference in rushing and producing a 1,000-yard rusher in Bilal Powell, who totaled 1,405 yards and 11 scores. The Cardinals amassed 159 yards on 37 carries in the win over Murray State, but averaged just 4.0 yards a carry.
“When you get yourself into down and distances where it is more pass heavy, you become one-dimensional,” said Kupper about the team’s problems running the ball. “In the second half, penalties and turnovers are ultimately what destroyed our running game.”
Kupper knows that if the Cardinals are going to be a good football team and get back to a bowl game, they must emphasize their power running game.
“Obviously if you move the ball well on the ground, they have to put more people in the box and that opens up your passing game tremendously,” said Kupper. “I thought we did really well. We didn’t have a lot of missed assignments. We were targeted pretty well and it was just some technical issues.”
Kupper and the Cardinals will face a much larger challenge against FIU in a nationally televised contest on ESPN.
“FIU has a lot of athleticism,” said Kupper. “All seven of the guys up front can run really, really well. We just have to cover them up and stay on blocks.”