Wary Cardinals Not Looking Past Middle Tennessee

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Five minutes before a special teams meeting last Saturday, Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe walked into the training room and saw his players gathered around a television.

The ever-punctual Kragthorpe was about to remind his players what time it was when he saw what they were watching: Appalachian State against No. 5 Michigan. Rather than flip the set off and order his players to the meeting, Kragthorpe joined them, watching transfixed as the Mountaineers shocked the Wolverines.

If Kragthorpe was worried about the No. 8 Cardinals (1-0) becoming overconfident after whipping overmatched Murray State 73-10 last week in his debut, the Mountaineers took care of it for him. Louisville hosts Middle Tennessee (0-1) on Thursday night only too wary of the pitfalls that litter the schedule.

"I've said it before and sometimes people don't believe me, but the proof is in the pudding, anybody can beat anybody," Kragthorpe said. "Nobody anticipated Appalachian State going into Ann Arbor and winning. But it happens and we're capable of being beaten just like anybody in the country."

The Cardinals hardly looked beatable in crushing the Racers, but the Blue Raiders should prove to be a slightly stiffer test. Middle Tennessee battled Louisville for more than a half during last year's meeting in Nashville before backup quarterback Hunter Cantwell -- subbing for an injured Brian Brohm -- led the Cardinals to a 44-17 victory.

"I think our players may be a little more confident having played them last year," said Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill. "We hung in there pretty well until the third quarter."

Brohm will play on Thursday, and quickly answered any questions about how he would handle the transition to Kragthorpe's offense last week, throwing for 375 yards and four touchdowns and leading the Cardinals to the end zone on each of his seven drives.

"I thought Brian played extremely efficient," Kragthorpe said. "He distributed the ball well and had great command of what we were doing and we were able to make some big plays."

The Blue Raiders didn't give up a many big plays in a season-opening loss to Florida Atlantic, just a bunch of little ones. Florida Atlantic piled up 411 yards of total offense, and Stockstill's trademark spread attack turned the ball over three times and provided little protection for quarterback Joe Craddock.

"It is no secret we are scuffling up there on the offensive line," Stockstill said. "We just don't have a lot of people and that's not an excuse, that's just the way it is."

If Louisville showed any weakness last week, it was defensively. The Cardinals didn't register a sack, and the Racers moved the ball surprisingly well by spreading the field and running with quarterback Jeff Ehrhardt.

"People are spreading the field and putting four, five wide receiver sets and putting their quarterback there 6 yards in the shotgun and just grabbing it and throwing it," Kragthorpe said. "Even if it's an incompletion, it's not a negative play and second-and-10 is better than second-and-17."

Still, the Cardinals know they're going to have to adjust, particularly against a schedule that features dual threat quarterbacks like West Virginia's Pat White and South Florida's Matt Grothe.

"It's not easy to get somebody with a three-step drop," cornerback Travis Norton said. "Everything is about communication. You have to watch what your opponent is doing."

And not get caught looking ahead. The Cardinals are a week away from a showdown with archrival Kentucky. The game has traditionally been played on the opening weekend of the season, but was pushed back by the Wildcats this season. It's given the first two weeks of the season a considerable lack of buzz, with much of the local attention pointed toward Sept. 15. Everywhere, that is, except in the Louisville locker room.

"You've gotta play every week with a bulls'-eye on your chest at a place with a Top 10 ranking," Kragthorpe said. "We know we're going to get everybody's best effort every time we play. The thing we've got to do is make sure we're in total command, with total focus on the task at hand."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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