The road doesn't get any easier for Kragthorpe's Cardinals this week. Louisville, 1-1, will travel west to play Utah, who finished 13-0 last season and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Making things doubly tough is the fact that the Utes figure to be smarting after losing at Oregon 31-24 last weekend.
Louisville will try to bounce back against the Utes after watching rival Kentucky come back from two fourth quarter deficits to notch their third straight win in the series. The Cardinals were undone primarily by a pair of fourth quarter turnovers, one of which resulted in Kentucky's game-winning touchdown in the final five minutes.
"It's was a very disappointing loss – a game we felt like we had a lot of chances to win, particularly in the fourth quarter," Kragthorpe said. "We had two fourth quarter leads and weren't able to hold onto to those. But I'm proud of the way our guys played. They played their hearts out."
"I thought he really made a lot of progress from week one to week two," Kragthorpe said. "He was a great field general against Kentucky. I thought he did a good job managing the game and making plays outside the pocket...in some third down situations. It was very encouraging to see him play that way in front of that kind of crowd."
Utah enters Saturday's game, which will be televised locally at 7:30 on CBS College Sports TV, 2-1. The Utes opened the season with wins over Utah State (35-17) and San Jose State (24-14) before dropping their last outing against Oregon.
"I think Utah is an excellent team," Kragthorpe said. "They've won 23 of their last 25 games and Kyle (Whittingham) has done a tremendous job."
Louisville will be looking for their first win over Utah. The Utes have won the three previous meetings, including a 44-35 win over Louisville in 2007 – Kragthorpe's first season at UofL. Kragthorpe is 0-2 against Whittingham, including a loss in the 2006 Armed Forces Bowl.
Through three games, Utah has appeared vulnerable against the run, allowing more than 150 yards on the ground. The Utes, however, rank 17th nationally against the pass and are allowing just 20 points per contest.
"They are very talented on the defensive side of the ball," said Kragthorpe. "They have eight senior starters and guys that have played a lot of football for them. They're very aggressive with multiple blitzes and they're very good at what they do."
Utah also appears to be finding their way on offense with Terrance Cane replacing record-setting quarterback Brian Johnson. Though the Utes rank 29th nationally in total offense (438 yards per game) they're only 58th in scoring offense (27 ppg.). Utah relies strongly on their ground game, led by bruiser Matt Asiata, and average 201 yards rushing per contest.
"On the offensive side of the ball I think they're junior college quarterback Cane has played well for them," Kragthorpe said. "Asiata is a big, physical back that they use in a variety of different ways with the Wildcat formation. They've got a new group of wide receivers, but they're a productive group. And they're physical on the offensive line."
Much like last week against Randall Cobb, the Cardinals will have to be prepared to defend Asiata out the Wildcat formation, particularly in short yardage and goal line situations.
"We prepared for that last week but didn't see very much of it," Kragthorpe said. "It's definitely something you've got to account for, particularly with guys like Asiata that we're going to see this week. He's a big, physical back that can pound it between the tackles. They've also thrown out of the Wildcat formation."
If Louisville could generate some pressure on Cane and force a turnover or two - Cane threw two picks against Oregon - it would definitely help their cause. But the Cardinals haven't been able to sack the quarterback the past two seasons. Louisville currently ranks eighth in the Big East and 92nd nationally in sacks per game. The Cardinals recorded two sacks against Indiana State but none against Kentucky. Utah ranks 25th nationally in sacks allowed.
"It is a little bit (concerning) because you've got to pressure a quarterback in order to make him unsettled," Kragthorpe said. "I thought we did that on a couple of occasions but we want to do a better job getting more pressure on the quarterback. We've got to get more pressure on the quarterback."
One thing to keep a close eye on this weekend: How the Cardinals respond after an emotional loss to Kentucky? Louisville is 6-6 following a loss under Kragthorpe, but were just 2-4 last season. After a loss to Syracuse last year, Louisville never recovered losing their last four games to finish with a losing record.
"We're going to have to play extremely well to go up there and beat them," Kragthorpe said. "They're as good a football team as we've played this year."