Strong's Cards have room for improvement

From key performers, impact newcomers, and areas for improvement, breaks down Louisville's season-opening, 21-9, win over Murray State.

O-Line Struggles
Charlie Strong wanted two 100-yard rushers against Murray State, but the Cardinals offensive line couldn't generate consistent push up front to free running backs Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright. A sign Louisville's running game never got on track: Punter Chris Philpott was the Cardinals second leading rusher.

The line was also flagged for several false start penalties – tackle Hector Hernandez was a repeat violator - something that plagued the unit during camp. Back to back false starts on Teddy Bridgewater's only series put the offense in a big hole, resulting in Bridgewater's interception on third and long.

You know Strong can't wait until junior center Mario Benavides returns to the lineup. Benavides' return should help matters at two positions – center and tackle, as Alex Kupper, who filled in for Benavides at center, will likely move back over to that critical position. With eight days before FIU visits PJCS, Strong's offensive line will be working overtime during the holiday weekend. Bet on it.

Stein Solid
Will Stein missed tight end Josh Chichester a few times over the middle, and he did lose a fumble, but the junior quarterback was solid in only his third start. The 5'10 Stein completed 17 of 33 pass attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Stein's height, or lack thereof, will always be an issue, especially when he's in the pocket surveying the middle of the field. But Stein can build on his season-opening performance provided the line in front of him continues to make strides.

UofL's o-line struggled against Murray State
Bridgewater's Debut
Teddy Bridgewater only played one series against the Racers, and things didn't go well for the former four-star quarterback from Miami. Two false start penalties and a delay of game put the offense in a big hole that resulted in Bridgewater's interception deep down the field on third and 17. About the only positive for Bridgewater is that he got his feet wet at the college level. He'll certainly receive more opportunity as the season progresses.

Strong Defense
Though Louisville's offense struggled, the Cardinals defense came to play. Despite missing starters Brandon Dunn and B.J. ButlerGreg Scruggs didn't play much either – Louisville's defense was solid all night against Murray State's potent offense. The Cardinals forced three turnovers – interceptions by Dexter Heyman, Anthony Conner and Mike Evans – allowed only 3.5 yards per play, and recorded a pair of sacks. Heyman and linebacker Preston Brown led the way with 12 tackles each.

Freshmen Impact
Seven true freshmen saw their first action against Murray State, including offensive guard John Miller and cornerback Andrew Johnson, who both started Thursday's opener. Miller and Johnson were both solid, but the most impressive freshmen were wide receiver DeVante Parker and defensive end B.J. Dubose. Parker had a 39-yard touchdown reception, and caught three passes for 55 yards, while Dubose was all over the field making plays, including hit the quarterback to force an interception. Those two appear stars of the future in the making. Bridgewater, defensive tackle Jamon Brown and safety Calvin Pryor saw action, too.

Ball Control
Running backs Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson both put the ball on the ground against Murray State, a big no-no in Charlie Strong's book. Wright's fumble in the red zone on Louisville's opening drive cost the Cardinals points, while Anderson's first career fumble stalled a promising second half drive. Anderson was upset with himself in the locker room afterward, and you can bet he and Wright will be more secure with the football going forward.

Anthony Conner intercepted a Murray State pass

Special Teams
Kenny Carter's special teams, with the exception of a failed fake punt attempt, were solid against the Racers. Chris Philpott drove most of his kick-offs into the end zone, and his successful first quarter fake punt conversion put the Cardinals in scoring position. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright both had long returns and averaged 31 yards on three kick returns. Though punt returner Scott Radcliff mostly fair-caught Murray State's eight punts, he did have a 30 yard return up the Racers sideline. Louisville's coverage units were solid all night, allowing no return yardage on five punts and just 20 yards on two kickoffs.

Extra Points

Louisville's first touchdown of the season was the product of a trio of former Trinity stars as Will Stein completed a four-yard touchdown pass to Scott Radcliff. Alex Kupper, the center who snapped to Stein, also played at Trinity.

Louisville hosted 15-20 visitors Thursday night, including star Central running back Anthony Wales, Glasgow tight end Hunter Bowles, and star Trinity juniors James Quick and Jason Hatcher.

DeVante Parker didn't know if his father, former UofL running back Anthony Shelman, scored a touchdown in his first game with the Cardinals. He didn't. Parker became the first true freshmen at UofL to score in his first game in the last 34 years.

Sophomore linebacker Preston Brown's stat line against Murray State was rather impressive – 12 tackles, 9 solo, and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Louisville has to clean up the penalties. The Cardinals were yellow flagged 10 times against Murray for 65 yards, the ninth straight game in which UofL has had more penalties and penalty yards than the opposition.

Though attendance at PJCS was about 9,000 under seating capacity, the 46,157 was the second-largest attendance figure for a Cardinal home-opener in history.

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