But thanks to an offense that provided the exclamation points, in spite of a defense that provided plenty of question marks, Louisville beat the Blue Raiders 58-42 in front of 40,882 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The Brian Brohm Heisman Trophy campaign train kept rolling along. The senior quarterback completed 25 of 39 passes for a career-high 401 yards – three of his receivers had at least 100 yards receiving - and five touchdowns. Not to be outdone sophomore running back Anthony Allen, rushed for a school-record 275 yards on 35 carries and scored two TDs.
The eighth-ranked Cards (2-0) rolled up 729 yards of total offense. Mario Urrutia caught seven passes for 142 yards and two TDs, Harry Douglas had eight catches for 100 yards and one TD and tight end Gary Barnidge had four catches for 126 yards and two TDs – one came on a Douglas fumble in the end zone.
Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, tallied 555 yards of total offense, including 265 on the ground after gaining just 18 in its season-opening loss to Florida Atlantic.
"Obviously not the way we wanted to do it, but the bottom line is we won," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "Obviously there are some things we need to improve on."
First and foremost is defense. The Cards' D, which looked shaky at times in last week's win over Murray State, was downright wobbly against the Blue Raiders.
Louisville started off against Middle Tennessee much like it did last week against Murray State – one play, one touchdown. Against the Racers it was a 44-yard TD pass from Brohm to Douglas. Thursday night it was an 81-yard TD from Brohm to Barnidge. The Blue Raiders blitzed on the play and Brohm found Barnidge, wide open, in the middle of the field.
And just like last week the opposition immediately answered. But unlike the Racers' long, sustained scoring drive, the Blue Raiders needed just three plays – more accurately one play – a 78-yard scoring pass from Joe Craddock to tailback DeMarco McNair. The Cards blitzed on the play, and there seemed to be some confusion among the UofL defense, and that left McNair unguarded in the middle of the field.
It didn't take Louisville long to answer. Two plays and 59 seconds to be exact. Most of that came on Urrutia 71-yard race to the end zone after he caught a slant from Brohm, then got some help when two would-be Blue Raider tacklers collided and fell to the ground.
Middle Tennessee fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Cards made it 21-7 on Allen's 5-yard TD run.
But the Blue Raiders weren't done. They drove down the field and scored on Phillip Tanner's 23-yard run to pull within 21-14.
Louisville's lead grew to 28-14 after Barnidge recovered Douglas' fumble in the end zone, but Middle Tennessee came right back with another TD – a 24-yard pass from Craddock to Bobby Williams. After the score Louisville fans made their displeasure known with a chorus of "boos." After an Art Carmody field goal, McNair raced 39 yards for another score to make it 31-28. Allen answered with his second TD run before Tanner scored from one yard out to pull the Blue Raiders within 38-35 at intermission.
Louisville's defense stepped up in the third quarter, holding Middle Tennessee scoreless, while Carmody kicked another field goal and Urrutia caught a 22-yard TD from Brohm to push the Cards' lead to 51-35.
But the fourth quarter began with a bang for the Blue Raiders when Tanner broke free for a 79-yard TD run. UofL answered with a long drive capped by a Brohm to Douglas TD. Now Louisville's focus is on next weekend's game at archrival Kentucky, and improving its defense.
"It was surprising," Brohm said of the defense's performance. "But those guys felt badly they gave up those points. But we've got faith in them."