Sure, Louisville must replace several starters from a defense that limited opponents to only 16 point per game during last year's Orange Bowl championship season, including NFL Draft picks Amobi Okoye and William Gay.
Okoye is now playing with the Houston Texans, while Gay is quickly making a name for himself with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are also replacing starting defensive end Zach Anderson, linebackers Nate Harris and Abe Brown and safety Brandon Sharp.
But while there will be some new faces on defense Thursday night, fans should be able to recognize quickly the trademarks of a Mike Cassity coached unit, namely a bunch of talented, fast athletes swarming to the ball and attacking the quarterback from all angles.
In fact, junior Earl Heyman, who will start at tackle for the Cardinals against the Racers, believes that this defense has the most speed and depth since he arrived at U of L three years ago.
"We're real deep and real fast," said Heyman, who changed his number from 57 to 99 this season as a favor to junior linebacker Mozell Axson. "I like our defense. We have to replace Amobi and Zach Anderson on the defensive front and I feel like we'll do that this year. I feel like we're fast and physical and we're trying to get better every day."
Junior Adrian Grady and senior Brandon Cox will replace Okoye and Anderson in the starting lineup at tackle and end, respectively. Big things are expected from the 6-2, 292 pound Grady. At the other end, junior Maurice Mitchell has supplanted talented sophomore Peanut Whitehead in the starting lineup. He'll make his first career start against Murray State.
"I used to tell people all the time, ‘watch Maurice Mitchell, he's a good end,'" Heyman said. "He's very physical and very fast and I think he's a great end. Peanut's a great end and they both do things very well. I expect great things out of both of them."
Cassity is blessed with a deep and experienced front four. The Cardinals could play as many as 10 guys up front against the Racers, a luxury that figures to keep the Louisville lineman fresh the entire game.
"I feel real confident in our rotation and that those guys are going to come in when I'm tired and will perform their jobs well and to the best of their abilities on the whole defense," Heyman said.
"I feel real confident in Willie Williams," Heyman said of his 6-3, 305 pound senior back up. "He can play nose or tackle. And I feel real confident in L.D. Scott, he's progressed well, and myself and Adrian Grady.
Heyman also likes what he sees from the Louisville linebackers and secondary. Lamar Myles and Malik Jackson return at linebacker, while two new starters, Deon Palmer and Richard Raglin are slated to start at safety.
"The cornerbacks and the secondary, as well as the linebackers, are doing just a wonderful job," Heyman said. "They're really impressive."
Fans should pay close attention to a pair of junior college transfers on defense, DB Woodny Turenne and linebacker Willie Williams – or WW2, if you'd prefer. Turenne is penciled in as the starter opposite junior Rod Council at cornerback, while Williams, the former No. 1 linebacker recruit in the nation, is listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Preston Smith on the weakside. Both players bring loads of talent and speed to an already talented and speedy D'.
"This defense is going to be very good," senior quarterback Brian Brohm said. "You're going to see a lot of playmakers out there and we're going to be very aggressive. It's going to be a fun defense to watch. (Woodny Turenne) has got a lot of recovery speed. He can cover anybody out there. They're going to make a lot of things happen."
Heyman agrees with Brohm's sentiment, and adds that the Cards defense made a lot of improvement the past month.
"I think we're progressing and that we took some big steps during camp," Heyman said. "We're looking forward to playing Murray State. We're tired of beating up on each other."