Everything You Need To Know: Louisville Vs. Murray State

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV / Radio: ACC Network / 93.9 The Ville (FM)

Last Time:

Louisville put on a complete performance in their last outing against Murray State, back in 2017. The Cardinals tallied 676 total yards, including 349 total from quarterback Lamar Jackson (249 passing, 100 rushing), while holding the Racers to just 80 in a 55-10 blowout victory. Jackson also threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, while backup Jawon Pass completed 14-of-19 passes for 115 yards and scored two total touchdowns himself.

Louisville leads the all-time series 14-6. Louisville has not lost to Murray State in football since 1984.

Heading In: Murray State

Murray State had a rough 2022 season, going 2-9 and only getting wins in back-to-back weeks against Tennessee State and Robert Morris. Dean Hood now enters his fourth season as head coach of the Racers, hoping to get Murray State back to a winning season after joining the Missouri Valley Conference in football this season.

The Racers enter Thursday’s game with a 1-0 record, beating Presbyterian 41-10 last week.

Murray State Offensive Outlook

Murray State rotated three quarterbacks in their blowout win over Presbyterian, but expect D.J. Williams to return as the starter for Thursday night. Williams was the starter in last year’s season opener at Texas Tech before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first half, and started last week’s opener with a solid performance (8-of-16, 104 yards, TD). He did have over 500 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground in 2021, plus he showed that he can extend plays with his feet in the season opener.

Do keep an eye on D-II Benedict transfer Eric Phoenix, though. Phoenix completed 4-of-5 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and was all-conference at his previous school. Not sure if Phoenix will start but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get reps on Thursday.

The Racers had a balanced attack against the Blue Hose with 253 passing yards and 244 rushing, and their rushing attack was largely a committee effort from the running back position. Expect Q’Darryius Jennings and Jawaun Northington to head up the position though; both combined for 20 of Murray State’s 44 attempts, with Jennings averaging 5.6 yards per carry last week.

Murray State only threw the ball 24 times last week, but they made the most of it with some big plays. Taylor Shields caught both of his passes for touchdowns, including a 51-yarder in the second half that effectively put the game out of reach. Cole Rusk (two rec., 49 yards), Golden Eke (two rec., 46 yards), and Deshun Britten (rec., 24 yards) all had plays of 20+ yards through the air, that’ll be a point of emphasis given Louisville’s struggles with big play containment in the second quarter against Georgia Tech last week.

Players to Watch: WR Taylor Shields (two rec., 69 yards, two TDs); RB Q’Darryius Jennings (nine carries, 50 yards)

Murray State Defensive Outlook

The Racers held Presbyterian to 223 total yards, including 99 passing and held QB Tyler Wesley to 50% completion and 4.5 yards per attempt.

Murray State’s front seven managed to make things difficult for Presbyterian last week, with seven TFLs and two sacks, plus throwing a lot of pressure and keeping Wesley from getting comfortable in the pocket. Linebacker Nick Walker and defensive lineman Detoye Adewole were among the most productive players from the group, both recording a sack and TFLs in the season opener. The Racers also get linebacker Cade Shupperd back for the 2023 season, who earned All-OVC Second Team honors last season.

Players to Watch: LB Nick Walker (seven tackles, two TFLs, sack); DL Detoye Adewale (three tackles, TFL, sack); LB Cade Shupperd (39 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, five sacks in 2022)

Things to Watch For

  • Will Louisville get off to a strong start in the next two games?

I don’t think I am alone in believing that there are things Louisville can improve on in the next two games. One of those improvements that I would like to see against Murray State and Indiana is for the Cardinals to get off to a stronger start, especially in tune-up games like this.

That especially applies to the passing game, which had some hiccups in the first half. Louisville did manage to rebound in the second half off the back of their passing game, especially once Jack Plummer and Jamari Thrash started to connect with each other. Look for Louisville to continue to get Plummer and Thrash more involved throughout the game in the next two weeks.

  • Will Louisville establish itself at the line early against Murray State?

I’m extending the first point above, as far as momentum is concerned, to both the Louisville offensive and defensive line. Louisville’s offensive line did not allow a sack or TFL last week, and while it’d be a tough ask for any team to do that in back-to-back weeks, this Cardinals unit should have an advantage upfront. The Racers had two sacks and nine TFLs last week against Presbyterian, but are an undersized unit as they lack any player in their listed two-deep above 300 pounds. If Louisville decides on utilizing the ground game more on Thursday, it’s possible that they could have a big day there.

As for Louisville’s defensive line, this should be an opportunity for them to get to creating negative plays. Limiting big plays is a point of emphasis after last week, but this could be an opportunity for the front four to get some momentum with creating havoc and disrupting plays at the line of scrimmage.

  • Who will get reps in the second half?

Assuming that Louisville gets off to a huge lead, this could be our first look at some of the young quarterbacks expected to compete for the starting quarterback job in 2024. Brock Domann will likely get some reps first in the event of a blowout, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Pierce Clarkson, Brady Allen, or Harrison Bailey get reps afterwards. I don’t believe it’ll forecast who eventually wins the starting job next season by any means, but live game reps are valuable towards a player’s development.

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