That the Cardinals need to work out some kinks became evident after a disjointed performance last week in a 35-28 win over Memphis. Despite a struggling offense and a defense that gave up nearly 500 yards to the Tigers, the Cardinals made enough big plays on special teams to come away with a win.
Now, Louisville is set to host Middle Tennessee, a team that racked up 555 yards last season against the Cardinals in a 58-42 loss. Steve Kragthorpe's first order of business is to get Louisville's offense back on track – an offense that has slowed itself with untimely penalties and costly turnovers.
"Everything always comes back to execution," Kragthorpe said. "We've got to execute no matter what team we're playing against or what front or coverage we're seeing. We've got to be able to block, throw the ball accurately and catch it when it is."
A win would give Louisville a 4-2 record heading into the second half of the season and Big East league play. That would mean the Cardinals could possibly spilt their remaining six games and still go bowling.
"I'm not satisfied with where we're at," Kragthorpe said. "We need to improve to be the type of team we want to be. We're never satisfied around here. I'm happy with some of the things we're doing and some of the progress we've made. But I'm certainly not satisfied with where we're at right now."
For Louisville, the major problem so far this season has been inconsistency. One game, the offense is outstanding (Kansas State), the next stagnant (Memphis). One game the defense will be stingy (UConn) the next woeful (Memphis). The special teams have struggled all season but saved the day against Memphis when neither the offense nor defense played well.
"We've got to be more consistent in all three phases," said Kragthorpe. "We've shown some signs and flashes of playing well in each of the three phases of the game but we've got to be consistent and put a full football game together."
more consistency against Middle Tennessee.
The Cardinals are fighting those inconsistency problems. Defensively, Louisville has been stout against the run but allowed UConn's Donald Brown to rush for 190 yards and gave up 481 yards to Memphis. On offense, Louisville ranks 20th nationally in rushing and 35th in total offense. But the Cards only mustered 299 yards and no second half touchdowns against Memphis.
"Defensively I think we're a work in progress but we've got to play a little better than we did last week," said Kragthorpe. "Offensively we've got to be more consistent. We've shot ourselves in the foot on a number of occasions. We've had some turnovers that have hurt us."
Like Louisville, MTSU is a bit of a mystery, too. They own an impressive win over Maryland and came within one yard of upsetting Kentucky on the road. On the other hand, the Blue Raiders also have double-digit losses to Arkansas State and Florida International on their resume.
Joe Craddock leads the way for MTSU on offense. Last season, Craddock threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns against the Cards. This season, Craddock has thrown for 1,369 yards and seven touchdowns. Craddock's top target, wide receiver Malcolm Beyah, has 429 yards and four touchdowns. Phillip Tanner, who ran for 144 yards and three scores in last year's contest, leads the team in rushing with 270 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Desmond Gee is also a dangerous weapon.
"They do a great job with Desmond (Gee) moving him all around," Kragthorpe said. "He can play quarterback, running back, wing back, receiver. He's a very good player. They try different ways to put the ball in his hands.
"Philip (Tanner) rushed for (a lot of yards) last year and he's a good player. They've got guys at the skill positions that are very good players. And I think their offensive line is playing well this year."
After last season's hard fought game, Kragthorpe and the Cardinals know they can't overlook MTSU.
"Anybody is capable of beating anybody," said Kragthorpe. "They've had some very big wins this year and they've had some losses that were very, very close. I thought they dominated both sides of the ball against Maryland. And they take it down to the one yard line down 20-14 against Kentucky in Lexington.
"They've got a good team and I think our guys understand that. Parody is unbelievable right now and that will certainly be the case on Saturday."
KICKOFF 3:30 LOCATION PJCS TELEVISION WHAS
Despite having just one touchback all season, the Cardinals' kickoff return defense is one of the best in the country. Louisville ranks 22nd in the nation in kick return defense, allowing just 18.3 yards a return. The Cardinals have allowed one kickoff return of 30 yards this year.
The Cardinals have done a great job of getting interceptions under new defensive coordinator Ron English. Through five games in 2008, the Cardinals already have five picks, which is just two less than the Cardinals recorded during the entire 2007 season. Senior Woodny Turenne leads the team with three.