Murray St.-Louisville Preview
Plenty has changed since Bobby Petrino left Louisville abruptly more than seven years ago, but his winning attitude and lofty expectations for the program certainly haven't.
After the 25th-ranked Cardinals got Petrino's second tenure off to a solid start, they'll look to build on that performance as they host FCS-level Murray State on Saturday night.
Petrino surprised Louisville's loyal fan base and administrators by bolting for the Atlanta Falcons after posting a 41-9 record and an Orange Bowl victory from 2003-06. He did the same to Atlanta 13 games into his first season, then wound up mired in controversy after a motorcycle accident with his mistress led to his firing from Arkansas in 2012.
After going 8-4 at Western Kentucky last season, Petrino is back where it all began at Louisville, which was in Conference USA at the start of his first tenure, switched to the Big East and after one year in the American Athletic Conference is now in the ACC.
The Cardinals got that era started with Monday's 31-13 home win over conference foe Miami, a game Petrino said was one of the most stressful he's ever coached.
"I was probably more nervous for this game than any game," Petrino said. "I haven't slept a lot lately. But it was so exciting once we got to the stadium. And then to watch our players out there and play the way they did..."
Though the Cardinals were impressive at times, Petrino expressed his desire for improvement during his times of offering praise. Quarterback Will Gardner made his first start in place of first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater and finished with 206 yards and two touchdowns, but he also fumbled twice.
Louisville was trailing when Corvin Lamb's 97-yard kickoff return with less than five minutes left in the first half put it ahead for good, though it needed a John Wallace field goal and Gerald Christian 10-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
"Obviously we made some mistakes on offense and on special teams," Petrino said. "We grinded it out in the fourth quarter and that's a great way to win a game. Like I said when I first got here, this team has a great attitude and has a great work ethic. I'm just proud to coach them."
Petrino leaned heavily on senior running back Dominique Brown, who carried 33 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. Especially with an inexperienced quarterback, Petrino stressed the need for Brown to be a workhorse going forward.
"He really, really played well for us, he really grinded," Petrino said. "He came to me and said 'keep giving me the ball coach and I'll find a way to get it in the end zone' and I respect that and he certainly did. He's tough and big and physical."
Defensively, the Cardinals made up for their offensive mistakes by forcing three turnovers in Petrino's 3-4 scheme. Junior college transfer James Sample was named ACC co-defensive back of the week after recording eight tackles and an interception.
''We got faith in each other,'' Sample said. ''Coaches put us through the situation where we were backed up, where we have to act like our offense fumbled early in the drive. We were used to it, we were ready for it.''
After Petrino's first game of his second stint was featured on national television, things will be a little more low-key on Saturday against a Murray State team that is starting its third quarterback in as many seasons.
Senior CJ Bennett had a solid debut Thursday, throwing for 167 yards and five touchdowns in a 73-26 win over Division III Union College. The Racers also had 298 yards rushing, with Nick Taylor and Pokey Harris adding TD runs.
Murray State, though, has lost each of its three games against Top 25 foes by a score of 191-23.