Louisville offense remains work-in-progress

Louisville's offense, slowed by penalties and turnovers in a season-opening win over Murray State, looks for better 'rhythm' and production against Florida International Friday night at PJCS.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Louisville's defense is ahead of its offense heading into the second week of the season.

That's to be expected with five new starters on the offensive line, a new starting quarterback and young receivers throughout the two-deep.

Heading into Friday night's contest against Florida International, Charlie Strong wants to see improvement from an offense that failed to produce points in the second half of last Thursday's, 21-9, win over Murray State.

Louisville's offense actually started quickly against the Racers. The Cardinals scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions against Murray State, including drives of 81 and 70 yards.

But after recording three drives of 50 yards or more in the first half, the Cardinals only mustered one drive of more than 50 yards after halftime. In total, six of Louisville's drive against Murray State resulted in 20 yards or less.

"In the first half (Will) Stein managed the game very well and we scored three of the first four possessions," Strong said. "The second half there was no rhythm, no tempo and we just could never get anything established. We were never consistent running the football and never got going."

It's hard to establish tempo and maintain offensive rhythm when committing 10 penalties – for 65 yards - and four turnovers. On Teddy Bridgewater's first series at quarterback, for example, the Cardinals committed two false starts and a delay of game that resulted in an interception on 3rd and 17.

"Our rhythm changed," said center Alex Kupper. "We had an uptempo offense going and one little mistake led to another. And then the fumbles slowed our tempo down, which led to frustration and people missing blocks.

"In the second half, penalties and turnovers are what ultimately destroyed the running game. They brought pressure the whole game and rolled the safeties down forcing us to throw the ball more than we wanted to."

Strong expected Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright to post impressive rushing numbers against the Racers. While Anderson averaged almost 7 yards on nine carries, he and Wright combined to rush for only 92 yards. To make matters worse, both Anderson and Wright lost fumbles – Wright's in the red zone on UofL's opening possession.

"I saw it at halftime and I should have addressed it then," Strong said. "When we get a lead it's all about finishing the game. We just don't have the leadership and confidence right now where we can bounce back and go score with the ball. That's why it's important for Vic Anderson, Josh Chichester, and Josh Bellamy to take leadership, drive it and score."

Though Louisville rushed for 159 yards in the opener, Strong wants to see better production out of his team's rushing attack against FIU, which allowed only 97 yards rushing against North Texas. That means Louisville's reconstructed offensive line has to grow up quickly.

"You would like to see us block people and move them out of the way (better)," Strong said. "There's nothing we need to change. We need to run harder and make sure we block and open up the holes so guys can run through them. We have five new linemen so it's all new to them. We'd like to see improvement from week one to week two, which we will hopefully see."

Without junior center Mario Benavides, a two-year starter, Louisville lacks its top lineman and best leader up front. Tackle Hector Hernandez and Ryan Kessling and guards Jake Smith and John Miller made their first career starts against Murray State.

"Kupper and Jake Smith played very well," Strong said. "Miller for his first time as a true freshman played well. Hector had two or three false starts, but I thought our offensive line played very well."

Kupper, a part-time starter last season, said Louisville's new linemen didn't miss many assignments, but need to improve ‘technical' issues heading into Friday's game against FIU.

"We didn't have a lot of mental errors, it was technical issues we've got to get addressed," Kupper said. "Other than that we played pretty well. We didn't have a lot of missed assignments, but we just didn't get in technical position to make a block sometimes. There was going to be mental errors, but for the most part I thought we executed pretty well for being a young group."

Kupper said the offensive line will work hard to iron out their issues this week in practice.

"We need to review the tape and fix the mistakes," he said. "Every single game we're going to get better. We've shown that in camp and we'll show that this season."

Though he was making only his third career start, junior quarterback Will Stein earned Strong's praise for his play against Murray State. The 5'10 Stein completed 17-32 passes for 226 and two touchdowns. Stein also lost a fumble.

"He plays with a lot of confidence," Strong said. "He is so comfortable in the offense because he knows it. He missed a few throws over the middle to Josh Chichester, but I was very pleased with the way he played."

"I thought he played well," Kupper added. "There were some times where he got flushed out of the pocket and had a couple balls batted down, and he did miss throw a couple. But he stayed pretty poised in my mind."

Stein says the offense must maintain better rhythm this week against FIU. That means getting ahead of the chains, consistently gaining yardage with the running game, and eliminating turnovers and penalties.

"I should have played a lot better. We left a lot of points out there," Stein said. "The offense runs through the quarterback so I've got to play better for this team. We couldn't really find a rhythm. They were blitzing a lot and stopping our run game. We were in bad downs. We've got to get on a better schedule, which means getting four yards a play."

Benavides ‘Itching' to Return

Charlie Strong said Mario Benavides will miss Friday's game against FIU. There's been no indication when the junior center might return to the lineup.

"He means a great deal," Kupper said. "He knows what he's doing, he's been though the ringer.

"He can't be out at practice very much but he still sits in on meetings. He was on the sidelines providing encouragement and keeping us motivated. He's itching to come back."

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