After last weekend’s season-opening home win over rival Kentucky, No. 23 Louisville returns to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday afternoon against Missouri State. The Cardinals and Bears will kick off at 3:30 p.m., ET and the game will be televised locally by WHAS-TV.
Saturday’s matchup will be the first ever meeting between Louisville and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) foe Missouri State, which enters the game at 0-1 following last week’s 51-9 loss at Kansas State. The Bears were only down 9-6 at halftime and trailed just 16-9 at the end of the third quarter before the Wildcats used a 35-point fourth quarter to put the game away.
The Cardinals are 2-0 in their previous matchups with FCS teams under the direction of head coach Charlie Strong. One of the keys this week for Strong and the Cardinals will be maintaining focus and energy following an entertaining and emotional victory last Sunday against the Wildcats.
“Our challenge is going to be getting our players ready to go play,” said Strong. “You come in and have a rival game the first game and they were ready to go play that game. Now, in our performance, our practice and our preparation, we cannot allow them to step back. We have to continue to prepare and continue to get this team ready to go play. We have a short week. They have Monday off. We come back on Tuesday. We’ll look at the film from Sunday’s game and then get them going on Missouri State. It is a short week but we know our preparation has to be there.”
The Cardinals don’t have to look far for a reminder of what can happen if they take a step back after a big win against a rival. Last season, Louisville followed an emotional road win at UK with a disappointing home loss to Marshall.
“You’d like to think that we’re more mature now that we’ve played a lot of games,” Strong said. “You can always go back to last season, and we beat Kentucky and we followed it up and got beat. We cannot allow that to happen and we’re at home. You’d like to think that you don’t have to go through it again.”
One of the keys in last week’s win over Kentucky was the performance by the Cardinals’ offense, led by the experienced line up front. Louisville had a pair of 100-yard rushers (Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright) and was both effective and efficient through the air behind the 19-for-21 performance by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The offensive line will again be a key ingredient to how the offense performs in week two.
“We protected the quarterback and we opened up the holes for our running backs to go run through,” Strong told reporters on Monday afternoon. “You have a senior in (center) Mario (Benavides) and you have a senior in Kupp (Alex Kupper). You also have three guys that started last season in Jamon Brown, Jake Smith and John Miller, so you have five guys that started games last season. We talked to those guys about them taking the field like it’s the fourth game of the season, not the first game of the season.”
One area that Strong and the coaches would like to see improved from week one to week two would be the defensive efficiency on third downs. The Cardinals allowed Kentucky to convert on 7-of-13 third down attempts on Sunday and the coaches expect that percentage to be much lower. According to Strong, it starts with simply carrying out the game plan.
“It’s all execution,” said Strong. “The medium downs you can live with because you have to be in man coverage to stop anything from three to five yards. Anytime you can get a team to third down and six, seven or eight, you need to get off the field. You have to play better third down defense because that’s the money down. I kept saying, ‘if we can get the ball back to our offense, with the way we’re playing on offense right now, we will go score again, so just get off the field on third down.’ It was all execution.”
Missouri State (0-1) at Louisville (1-0)
When: Sept. 8, 2012 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000)
Television: WHAS-TV – Drew Deener (p-x-p) and Doug James (analyst) will broadcast the game live.
Radio: 840 WHAS Radio – The Louisville Sports Network with Paul Rogers (p-x-p), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline)
Series Record: First Ever Meeting
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 23rd in this week’s Associated Press Poll and 24th in the latest USA Today Coaches’ Poll; Missouri State is unranked.