Burke has team's confidence

Justin Burke will start his first game at Louisville Saturday evening against Indiana State. The N.C. State transfer won a hard fought battle with Adam Froman for the starting job and has earned the confidence of his coaches and teammates heading into the season-opener.

Justin Burke will start the first game of his college career Saturday against Indiana State. Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe expects the Sycamores to throw all kinds of pressure at the 6'3 junior in an attempt to rattle him early.

"We anticipate seeing a lot of blitzes," Kragthorpe said.

The group charged with protecting Burke against Indiana State will be an offensive line that must replace two NFL Draft choices – Eric Wood and George Bussey. It shouldn't be much of a problem for Louisville's rebuilt line. The Sycamores registered just one sack and didn't force a turnover in a loss last week to NAIA Quincy.

Still, Kragthorpe's primary concern with Burke is "just getting him off to a good start and getting his confidence." "I've got great confidence in Justin and I think he's going to be an excellent player for us," said Kragthorpe. "He's going to manage the game extremely well. He's a very bright guy. He'll be ultra-prepared."

Burke has plenty of offensive weapons surrounding him in running back Victor Anderson and wide receivers Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Josh Chichester. Burke's primary objective? Cut down on turnovers. Louisville turned the ball over 30 times last season, including 17 interceptions. In their seven losses a year ago, the Cards committed 24 turnovers. Burke needs to do a better job protecting the ball for the Louisville offense.

"He's a smart guy and can really read the field well and know where his reads and progressions are," Long said. "He knows the playbook well and that's one thing that I would say is his major strength."

Since winning the job last week, Long said he's noticed Burke taking a bigger leadership role on the field during practice.

"He's become a lot more vocal and really trying to run that huddle the way a starting quarterback should," Long said. "He's taken that role on and had a great two weeks of practice."

Long should be available against Indiana State, providing Burke a big, reliable target at receiver. Burke's role Saturday shouldn't be too complicated – get the ball to Long and the Cardinals other playmakers, make solid decisions and take care of the football.

"The biggest thing for me is I'm going to have to keep him calmed down," Kragthorpe said. "We've got some guys that can make plays with the ball and he's just got to be the guy that distributes the ball and makes sure he's doing a good job of managing the game, getting us out of the huddle and putting the ball in the hands of guys that can make plays for him."

Greg Scruggs, one of UofL's starting defensive ends, has seen Burke up-close in practice. He's been impressed with Burke's poise in the pocket and the leadership he's provided the offense during practice.

"He's confident and never gets down," Scruggs said. "He's always encouraging to the offense and gets on them when he needs to. I really like his poise as our quarterback and I'm really confident in him. He's a great guy, he studies the book and he knows the offense well."

Scurggs, who moves well for a defensive lineman, also knows that Burke can allude oncoming pass rushers and make plays with his speed.

"I found out first hand that Justin can run – he hit me on the boot," Scruggs said of one play during a recent practice situation. "He pulled it and ran and I did not get him."

Burke should be well prepared when he takes the field as UofL's starting quarterback against the Sycamores. Kragthorpe said he scripts the first series offensively prior to each game, meaning Burke will practice all week the plays he'll run in the first quarter vs. Indiana State.

"I usually script as many as 14 plays that I want to see in the opening drives – plays, formations, situations, motions that you're trying to get some answers," Kragthorpe said. "There are going to be some things that I'm looking for how they're going to lineup to specific formations."

Kragthorpe also will allow Burke to select a few of his favorite plays to run against the Sycamores.

"I let the quarterback tell me the plays he likes and he's comfortable with – his favorite play in the red zone, run check, on third down," Kragthorpe said. "It's an opportunity for them to have a little bit of a say in (the offense.)"

With Burke's chief competitor for the starting job – Adam Froman – out for the season-opener with a back injury, redshirt freshman Zach Stoudt or walk-on Will Stein will serve as the No. 2 QB against Indiana State.

"I think Adam's taking it well," Kragthorpe said. "In terms of the second quarterback we'll probably decide that after Wednesday's practice. Froman will be out this week. It's Stoudt or Stein right now. I have more respect for that guy (Froman) because of the way he's handled this situation and how encouraging he's been with other players in practice."

While Froman, a junior college transfer, might get his chance to shine later on for the Cardinals, Burke's opportunity to lead the Louisville offense is nearly here. For the junior transfer, it's a well earned opportunity he'll try to capitalize on right from the start.

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