Louisville, KY – The eighth-ranked Louisville Cardinals will look to build on their impressive start to the 2013 season when they host FCS foe Eastern Kentucky at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
After an off-season filled with hype, the Cardinals finally got on the field on Sunday against Ohio. After just a few minutes it was clear that the expectations surrounding the Cardinals and Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater were warranted, as they rolled to a 49-7 victory.
"I don't think there is any question that they are a Top 10 team. The way they played and the way they executed, the quality of athlete, there's no doubt about it they're a Top 10 team," Ohio head coach Frank Solich said after Saturday's game. "I think it's the best team we've played since I've been at Ohio and that includes Ohio State when they were ranked."
With the win the Cardinals improved to 15-3 under head coach Charlie Strong when holding an opponent to less than 20 points. Louisville also pushed its all-time record at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, which opened in 1998, to 71-25.
Across the Blue Grass State in Richmond, EKU also posted a rout in its season opener. The Colonels played host to Robert Morris and handed the Colonials a 38-6 defeat. EKU finished the 2012 season at 8-3 and is currently getting 374 points in the latest Sports Network FCS Top 25. With that total of points, EKU is sitting behind Bethune-Cookman (420) for the 25th spot in the poll.
Despite being separated by the level of play at which they compete, the FBS Cardinals and FCS Colonels have met 26 times previously. The Cardinals lead the all-time series with a 17-8-1 advantage.
In terms of offensive production, EKU was a team last season that averaged 31.3 points and 425.8 yards per game. Despite losing four-year starting quarterback T.J. Pryor this season, the Colonels looked plenty potent once again in the season opener. In the win over Robert Morris, EKU picked up 401 yards on offense, while scoring on all six of its chances in the red zone.
Jared McClain took over under center and threw for a pair of touchdowns and scored two more on the ground. McClain completed 16-of-21 pass attempts for 155 yards overall and added 44 rushing yards.
McClain added to a strong and balanced rushing attack for the Colonels, who had five different players run the ball at least five times. Jared Sanders was the lead back with 53 yards on eight carries.
The production from the receiving corps was also evenly spread with eight different players collecting at least one reception. Jeff Clover was the most productive as he brought in four receptions for 42 yards.
On defense EKU was punishing, especially against the run, an area where the team excelled in last season by ranking ninth in the FCS in yards allowed on the ground (108.2 ypg). Against Robert Morris the Colonels allowed just 55 yards on 25 carries for a paltry 2.2 yards per carry average. In all EKU let up just 232 yards to the Colonials, while forcing a pair of turnovers.
Anthony Brown was one of the key returning starters for the offense and the outside linebacker was again a leading force in the opening game. Brown tallied a team-high five tackles, while four other plays collected four stops. David Carter was one of those players, as his 1.5 tackles for loss led the team on the day. Paul Ritter and Avery Pitt each recorded sacks as well.
While Jadeveon Clowney looked sluggish and Johnny Manziel took more criticism, Teddy Bridgewater was absolutely dominant in the season opener as he likely took the early edge in the Heisman chase. The junior signal caller was as efficient as always, completing 23-of-28 pass attempts, for 355 yards, tying a career-high with five touchdown passes. Bridgewater's only blemish in the contest was an interception in the second quarter when Louisville already led 21-0.
With Bridgewater steering the way the Cardinals were efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Louisville scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, converted on 13-of-16 third downs, all while totaling 615 yards of offense. It marked the first time since 2007 that a Louisville squad has posted 600 yards in a game.
Bridgewater wasn't alone in dominating on offense. Jai De La Cruz certainly turned some heads with his performance as the redshirt junior caught four passes for a game-high 116 yards and two scores. Damian Copeland (six receptions, 98 yards, two TDs) and Devante Parker (four receptions, 73 yards, one TD) also performed at a high level.
In the running game the Cardinals spread the wealth en route to picking up 199 yards on the ground. Senorise Perry picked up 58 of those yards on a team-high 13 carries, while former Auburn running back Michael Dyer scored on a 46-yard touchdown run.
Even though the Cardinals are loaded with firepower on offense, Strong is a defensive-minded coach. He had to be happy with how his unit opened the season. The Cardinals suffered just 273 yards of total offense to Ohio, a team that finished 33rd nationally in total offense a year ago (444.8 ypg). The Cardinals were especially tough against the run, allowing 81 yards on 28 carries from the Bobcats and 1,600-rusher Beau Blankenship.
"You look at the run (Blankenship) had with 1600 yards rushing last year. We knew we had to (get) in our gaps and we just wanted to try and give them different looks,' Strong said of his defense's effort against the run. "We wanted to make sure we got penetration and get in the backfield."
If there were any areas that need improvement it would be in producing negative plays (the Cardinals had just one sack and six TFLs) and in playing disciplined (11 penalties).
James Burgess was the defensive standout in the win as he was second on the team with eight tackles, including a pair for loss and a forced fumble. Hakeem Smith had three stops and an interception at the safety spot, while Preston Brown led the way with nine total tackles, though only one was a solo effort.
In the opening weekend seven different FCS schools topped FBS programs. Eastern Kentucky is a strong FCS squad. Unfortunately the Colonels are going up against a team that is firing on all cylinders with perhaps the best quarterback in the college ranks. Louisville will ease its way to a second win on Saturday.