Indiana State hasn't won a game since 2006, losing their last 27 straight contests, including a 26-20 overtime decision to NAIA Quincy last week. Indiana State's record against NCAA FBS opponents is even worse with a 32-game losing streak against Division 1 foes.
"I feel like we need to come out and start our season strong," sophomore defensive end Greg Scruggs said. "We need to prove to ourselves that we can be good. We won't be overlooking anybody. You always look to improve and that's what we're looking to do this year."
Louisville opens the season with a new look on both sides of the ball – and on special teams. The Cardinals have new coordinators in all three phases – Brent Guy on defense, Steve Kragthorpe on offense and Antonio Goss on special teams.
Guy, a former head coach at Utah State, likely has the most challenging job of the three. The Cardinals defense fell apart late last season, giving up an average of 524 yards per game in their final three games, including 671 yards in a 63-14 loss at Rutgers to close out UofL's first losing season since 1997.
With major question marks facing the defensive line and secondary, Kragthorpe hit the junior college ranks hard for help. Three junior college transfers appear in the two-deep for the opener on the defensive line – tackles Joe Townsend and Tim High and defensive end Malcolm Tatum, while two JUCO's are penciled in as starters in the secondary – strong safety Terence Simien and corner Preston Pace. Anthony Conner, another junior college addition, is also listed as the backup at cornerback behind returning starter Johnny Patrick.
"For us to be successful we have to stop the pass, get after the quarterback and stop the run," senior linebacker Jon Dempsey said. "We want 11 guys to the ball. We have a motto called the 'Red Swarm' and that's what we want, all 11 defenders to the ball carrier."
Kragthorpe enters his third season on the proverbial 'hot seat' with an 11-13 record. Under Kragthorpe, the Cardinals are 7-3 in non-conference games and 1-1 in season-openers. Louisville is 8-6 at home with Kragthorpe on the sidelines.
"I think it's going to be a very competitive team in the way they approach each game," Kragthorpe said. "I think it's a group that has a lot of cohesiveness that developed over the summer and in training camp. I think (we're) eager to play."
After a poor showing on offense last season, Kragthorpe dismissed offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm and assumed control of the offense. Kragthorpe will call the plays this season with assistants Matt Wells and Jay Johnson, a former offensive coordinator at Southern Miss, helping from the press box.
"It'll be different for me," Kragthorpe said. "I've got to manage the whole operation – offense, defense and special teams and at the same time call the plays on offense. But I really feel good about our offensive staff and our communication. I really feel comfortable with the guys I've got upstairs and the communication."
Indiana State jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead last week against Quincy. But the Sycamores couldn't hold the lead and eventually lost in overtime.
"Indiana State has already played a game and we had a chance to look at that film," Kragthorpe said. "The schemes that they employed last year and this year are a little bit different. I thought they would throw the ball a little bit more than what they did in that game. They only threw it 18 times with (Wyoming transfer Chris Stutzriem). They did have a 75-yard halfback pass for a touchdown and that's something we anticipate."
Kragthorpe expects the Indiana State defense to try to apply lots of pressure on Justin Burke, who will make his first career start at quarterback against the Sycamores.
"On defense they were a little bit more aggressive than they were last year. We saw some different blitzes from them," Kragthorpe said. "So we've got to be ready for just about everything. The hard thing about a first game is...you make sure you're ultra prepared and at the same time you're guys are ready from an execution standpoint, fundamental standpoint and technique standpoint."
"The fact that they've played a game is in their favor to a certain extent because they have had a chance to work out a few of the wrinkles and bugs that you always have in a first game," Kragthorpe added. "But the thing that's helpful for us is we did see a few things scheme-wise that they are employing this year that they didn't last year. It was helpful to see that game film."
Louisville fans hope to see a more prepared team this season. The Cardinals scored first just three times last season and were out-scored 76-41 in the first quarter. For the season, Louisville was out-scored 168-149 in the first half and were 1-4 last season when trailing at the half. That was a major focus for Kragthorpe during training camp, especially during game preparations.
"We orchestrated as many of those things as we could during our mock game situation last Saturday – pre-game meal, Card March, halftime adjustments, pre-game warmup – all those things," Kragthorpe said. "We tried to introduce as many situations during training camp that could come up during a game. We did have scrimmage situations where the coaches were off the field with the offensive and defensive signals and communication on the sidelines."
With rival Kentucky waiting in two weeks, the Cardinals are looking to jump start their season with an impressive outing against an out-matched opponent in the opener.
"Our team can't overlook anyone right now," said senior wide receiver Scott Long. "I feel like we're the underdogs in every game and have a lot to prove to ourselves. We haven't achieved our goals the past two seasons and we can't overlook anyone."
Kragthorpe said he'll make sure his troops don't overlook the Sycamores.
"You always talk about that (stuff)," said Kragthorpe. "I think our guys are ready to play."
Cardinals Game Day Notebook
Date: September 5, 2009
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Louisville, KY (PJCS)
Radio: 84-WHAS AM
Series: UofL leads 5-3-1; ISU won last game 44-21 in 1984