Spread: Louisville -45.5
How to Watch / Listen: 7 p.m. Saturday on ACC Network, WatchESPN and 790AM
Last Time: Louisville and Indiana State last met in the 2009 season opener, when Cardinal Stadium was undergoing its first major renovation by adding the upper deck to the east side of the stadium.
The Sycamores jumped to an early 7-3 lead after the first quarter, scoring a three-yard touchdown run from quarterback Chris Stutzriem. But Louisville responded with 24 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, led by a running attack that tallied 176 yards. Victor Anderson led the way with 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with Bilal Powell adding another score and 76 yards, as Louisville opened 2009 with a 30-10 win over Indiana State.
Louisville leads the all-time series 6-3-1.
The State of Indiana State Sycamores in 2018
It will be quite the dramatic leap in competition from week one to week two for Louisville. The Cardinals will go from a neutral site game against the defending FBS national champions (Alabama), to hosting their home opener against an FCS team that finished 0-11 last season.
Indiana State plays in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, one of the strongest in the FCS Subdivision. Last season, the Sycamores faced six ranked teams on their schedule, including five in their own conference (that also included defending FCS national champion North Dakota State). Their closest games last year were a two-point loss in the season opener to rival Eastern Illinois, and a 42-41 loss to Liberty.
Entering Saturday night’s game, Indiana State is 1-0 with a 49-0 victory over Division II Quincy University.
Key Players for Indiana State
RB Ja’Quan Keys
The Sycamores ran for 335 yards and six touchdowns in their shutout victory over the Quincy Hawks last Thursday. That was led by senior running back Ja’Quan Keys, who had 80 yards and two total touchdowns.
At 5’11” and 220 pounds, Keys leads an Indiana State rushing attack that features four key options. Keys and sophomore Titus McCoy will get most of the carries at running back, with Christian Covington also getting a healthy amount of reps. Both Keys and McCoy can bounce runs outside if they can get off-tackle.
QB Jalil Kilpatrick
In addition to their stable of running backs, Indiana State also has a dual-threat quarterback. Kilpatrick came to Indiana State after one season in the JUCO circuit, making his first start last week with 15 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. Kilpatrick’s running ability adds several dynamics to the Indiana State offense; they can now run a multitude of option plays where him or the running backs can make plays in space.
However, there are still some question marks surrounding the passing game. Though Kilpatrick completed 8-of-13 passes for 84 yards last Thursday, the offense didn’t see a lot of success stretching the field, nor try to throw the ball more often to make their offense more dynamic.
Louisville DL v. Indiana State OL
With the Indiana State offense leaning towards a run-heavy style, the focus of the game should be Louisville’s defensive line vs. Indiana State’s offensive line. Louisville’s defensive line has to get stops on first and second down, preferably behind the line of scrimmage. That would force an unproven Indiana State passing game to try and beat Louisville’s secondary on third-and-long. I’d expect a lot of VanGorder’s defense to play close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, similar to what they did last year against a similar Kent State team.
Personnel wise, Louisville will be playing without defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who suffered a wrist injury in last week’s loss to Alabama.
Louisville Running Back Battle
Last week against Alabama, the Cardinals only rushed for 16 total yards, and less than a yard per carry. And even if we didn’t count the sack yardage (-12 yards) held against Jawon Pass in college, Louisville would still have averaged 1.2 yards per carry.
Even if the opponent was the gold standard of college football like Alabama is, Louisville would have hoped to see more production from their current stable of running backs. So this week should be an opportunity for the Cardinals to get some confidence back in their running game.
At running back, Louisville should work on finding a back that they can lean on for first-and-second down. I’d expect Dae Williams and Trey Smith to get some reps over the next couple of games to figure out who is the best option there.
You might also see Hassan Hall and Javian Hawkins get the ball on a few plays, as Louisville tries to figure out how to utilize their team speed they’ve been praising this offseason. Colin Wilson should also see some snaps, if Louisville (a) needs a third option for their early-down backs, and (b) if Louisville wants to use a receiver out of the backfield.
Avoiding Mental Lapses
Much like last year in their opener, Louisville struggled with penalties and costly turnovers. The Cardinals committed 11 penalties in last week’s game, four of the illegal substitution variety. They also had two turnovers in the second half, including a pick-six that put Alabama over 50 points.
Almost anyone won’t be giving Indiana State a chance in competing against Louisville this weekend, so the main priority for the Cardinals should be to avoid any mental lapses in their game. The main areas of focus here include pre-snap chemistry, ball security, and avoiding penalties that hold both sides of the ball back.