Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off an impressive ACC debut, the now 25th-ranked Louisville Cardinals will step out of FBS action as they play host to the Murray State Racers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday evening.
Bobby Petrino's second stint with the Cardinals got off to a rousing start, as Louisville opened the season against one of the better teams in the ACC in Miami-Florida. The Cardinals proved they belong in their new conference with a 31-13 victory over the Hurricanes.
Chris Hatcher's Racers also jumped out to a fast start, overwhelming Union last week in a 73-26 rout. Murray State, which went 6-6 a year ago, was picked to finish sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference this season and will open league play against Jacksonville State on Sept. 27.
Louisville holds a 12-6 advantage in the all-time series with Murray State. The Cardinals have won the last four meetings, including a 21-9 decision in the last clash in 2011.
Not much went wrong for the Racers in terms of piling up the points and yards against Union in the opener. The team amassed 535 total yards of offense and had a pair of punt returns for scores to boot.
Almost 300 of those yards came on the ground (298), as Nick Taylor (82 yds, 1 TD), Marcus Holliday (76 yds), Pokey Harris (67 yds, 1 TD) and Roman Clay (52 yards) all got into the act.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback C.J. Bennett completed 13-of-22 passes, for a modest 167 yards, but did throw five TD passes. Three of those went to junior wideout Janawski Davis (4 rec, 60 yds, 3 TDs), who scored a fourth time on a punt return. Fellow junior Jeremy Harness found the end zone twice himself on four catches.
Defensively, Murray State did enough to keep Union at bay, as the Racers limited their opponent to just 86 yards rushing on 2.9 yards per carry. The squad also recorded four sacks and two fumble recoveries, while special teams added two blocked kicks to the two punt returns for scores.
Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Jackson led the team with seven total tackles, with one sack and one fumble recovery. Senior linebacker Perry Cooper (four stops) was responsible for the other fumble recovery.
Petrino got his answer regarding how his team would respond after Teddy Bridgewater's departure. New signal caller Will Gardner was just fine in his first start under center, as he completed 20-of-29 passes, for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He did fumble twice, but overall did a nice job.
Petrino was pleased with Gardner's performance.
"I think he did a good job, he had a really nice drive there in the first quarter. He executed in went straight down the field, he had a couple mistakes by not taking care of the football. You always wonder should you hit him in practice, but he has had three years since he?s been hit. We need to get him to get the ball against his body, keep his elbows in, and not carry it the way he did when they pressured him. A lot of the hits were caused of making the wrong call, we didn't block the right guy. He still has to get the ball against his body. You talk about poise and competitive spirit, the way he came out and played after those mistakes, I'm very proud of him."
It certainly helped having standout tailback Dominique Brown get off to a fast start as well, as he torched the Miami defense for 143 yards and a score in the win.
The Cardinals were shorthanded with an injury to All-American candidate DeVante Parker on the outside. However, seniors Gerald Christian (6 rec, 59 yds, 1 TD) and Eli Rogers (5 rec, 65 yds) were solid in filling the void.
Despite the loss of star power on the defensive side of the football this season, the Cardinals actually performed better than expected in the opener, limiting Miami to just 244 total yards. The team did a particularly good job against the Hurricanes' ground game, holding the team to just 70 net yards and standout tailback Duke Johnson to just 90 yards. The team recorded seven TFL and two interceptions in the win.
Petrino liked what he saw from the defense in the opener.
"I thought our defensive staff had a great plan and our players really did a nice job of understanding the plan and being gap-sound and tackling well," said Petrino. "You always worry about how you're going to tackle in the first game, but they went out and tackled really well. We didn't give them a lot of room - that was the big thing is we didn't give a lot of space. They had one big run when they actually drove the ball down there, but other than that, we didn't actually give a lot of space."
Junior safety James Sample led the team with eight tackles and had one of the interceptions. Redshirt sophomore safety Gerod Holliman (5 tackles) had the other.