Steve Kragthorpe will coach his first game as the Louisville head coach against 1-AA Murray State tonight at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. It’s a game – and a day – Kragthorpe has been eagerly anticipating since taking over the U of L program from Bobby Petrino almost nine months ago.
“The more I think about it the more excited I get,” Kragthorpe said earlier this week. “I’m anxiously awaiting my first game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. It will be a lot of fun to take our team through the Card March.”
How excited is Kragthorpe to get things started at Louisville, which opens the season ranked 10th in the polls? “I don’t think I’ve slept the last two nights and I don’t think I’ll sleep the next three,” he said Monday. “It’s not nervousness, it’s anticipation. This is exciting. This is why you coach and play - to get to play in games like these in great venues like we have here.”
For only the second time since 1994, Louisville will open the season against an opponent not named Kentucky. In Murray State, the Cardinals will face a hapless 1-AA opponent – one that went just 1-10 last season.
“I think our guys are excited about the opportunity to play a game,” Kragthorpe said. “We had an excellent preseason preparation and we’re ready to take the field against what we think is going to be a very good Murray State team.
“We know we’ll play a talented, well-coached football team. They were the least penalized team in the Ohio Valley conference last year so we know that they aren’t going to come in here and make mistakes and beat themselves. We’re going to have to play a good football game.”
Harry Douglas said his hamstring is
100 percent heading into the
Why does Kragthorpe expect better things from Matt Griffin’s Racers this season? Murray State’s biggest problem last season was youth, boasting a roster that counted 58 freshmen and sophomore. This season, the Racers return 17 starters and those young players now have significant game experience.
“They played a lot of true freshmen last year, so although they look young in terms of their experience-level on paper, they have a lot of game experience,” Kragthorpe said. “Jeff Ehrhardt, their quarterback, is an unknown because he hasn’t played a college football game yet, but I know he’s a very good athlete. He throws the ball and is a very good athlete in terms of making decisions to pull the ball down and running. We anticipate seeing and option and zone read package because of his athleticism.”
The Cardinals will likely focus their defensive efforts toward stopping 6-1 junior wide receiver Rod Harper, who caught a team-best 48 passes for 573 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
“Rod Harper is an excellent receiver,” Kragthorpe said. “I think he’s a guy that could play anyplace in the country and we’ve talked to our team about that all week long.”
While the Racers figure to be improved this season, the big storyline figures to be that Kentucky isn’t Louisville’s opening game opponent. Except for Louisville’s talented freshmen class, this will mark the first time this group of Louisville players will open the season against someone other than the Wildcats.
“It feels a little different that we don’t get to play Kentucky first, but it’s OK because we’re going to take it one game at a time,” said junior defensive tackle Earl Heyman. “We’re getting ready for Murray and preparing and trying to do the right thing. I think we’ll be well prepared for the game.”
Junior center Eric Wood, a team captain, says his teammates aren’t worried about who their opponent is tonight because they’re just ready to get on the field and play against someone besides themselves.
“It doesn’t feel any different,” Wood said. “We’re all excited about this home opener and we’ve just got to prepare like it’s a normal week. We’ve got to take every game the same. It will be interesting to see some of these young guys perform Thursday night. It will be really exciting.”
Harry Douglas, Louisville’s big play wide receiver, knows that the Cards can’t take any opponent lightly, not even a 1-AA foe that lost all but one game last season.
“On any given night you can lose to anybody,” Douglas said. “We have to come out and play full speed and be at 100 percent in every game.”
In what figures to be nothing more than a tune-up for Louisville, Kragthorpe wants to see his team come out on the field, execute and limit their mistakes. That’s how the first year U of L coach will likely grade his team’s performance against the Racers.
“Any time you play a first football game of the season, more than anything as a coach, you want to come out and play cleanly,” Kragthorpe said. “You’d like to minimize penalties, minimize turnovers and unforced errors. We want to play as close to an error-free football game as we possibly can.”
Kick-Off: 7:30 pm; Location: PJCS; Television: ESPNU; Radio: WHAS 840 AM; Last Meeting: 1990, Louisville won 68-0.
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