After a big win against Union College August 28, the Racers have been in high spirits as they prepare to hit the road and play the University of Louisville Saturday, according to Head Coach Chris Hatcher.
His biggest concern looking forward is that of his young team’s maturity.
“Probably the biggest disappointing thing was a lot of our young players had the big eyes in the game and didn’t play particularly well,” Hatcher said. “Some of them got better as the game went. So that, again, that’s a big cause for concern because we’re headed into a bigger venue this week.
“Like I told the guys last Friday, hey, you’re going to have to mature in a hurry because we’re counting on you guys to give us quality reps during the course of a ball game.”
A young Racer depth chart differs greatly from Louisville’s seasoned veterans.
Even quarterback C.J. Bennett, a fifth-year senior, has not seen much field time, according to Hatcher.
“Everybody says: ‘Ah, well he’s got a lot of experience,’” Hatcher said. “He hasn’t played much football in the college game, so I think he was a little nervous early on, but he made some nice checks, threw a couple good deep balls.”
Hatcher called Bennett a gritty player, saying he expects the quarterback to keep improving.
“I’m excited to see him grow and develop as the season progresses,” he said.
A 31-13 win over The University of Miami on Monday leaves the Cardinals with the same record as the Racers, though Louisville’s season opener was a conference game and Murray State’s first win came from an NAIA opponent. Hatcher says he is confident that his young players will be better this week than last, despite the huge jump from FCS to FBS play.
“I make the call right now that they will have a chance to play for the ACC title,” Hatcher said. “They’re either the best team or second-best team in the ACC if they stay healthy.”
Hatcher said the Racers have their work cut out for them.
The team has to go to Lousiville and be a better football team than it was against Union College, Hatcher said.
Louisville has 85 players on scholarship as opposed to the Racers’ 63, and Hatcher accounts this as a huge difference between the two teams.
The height and weight of the players differs dramatically between the rosters as well. These challenges are not unexpected ones.
“It’s going to be tough,” Hatcher said. “Those guys are good. I don’t think everybody understands how big a jump playing a team like that is. You look at number 94, their defensive end outside linebacker – I mean he’s bigger than everybody on our team.”
Age and physical size are just a few of the differences between the Racers and the Cardinals. According to Hatcher, the role of special teams will differ greatly against the Cardinals than it did against Union.
“Whenever you play up a level, that’s where a lot of times the glaring weaknesses are – when you play your special teams,” Hatcher said. “We take great pride in ours, and you know we played down a level last week and you can see the big difference in the special teams. That changed the course of the game very quickly. So when you play a game like this you hope to neutralize that aspect because that can change the game in a hurry.”
Hatcher said he hopes Murray State can make a few big plays.
But the perrogative of Saturday’s game isn’t to show off new offensive strategies, it’s to hold Louisville back as much as possible.
Murray State hasn’t beat the Cardinals since 1984.
When Murray State last played Louisville in 2011, the final score was 21-9, but Hatcher does not count on a similar encounter this year.
“You’re talking a whole different ball club now,” Hatcher said. “You’re talking: Louisville the first year with Charlie Strong, to after what he built – beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl – beat Miami last year in the bowl game. It’s two totally different teams.”
Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino returned to the Cardinals this year after a high-profile scandal and eventual dismissal from the University of Arkansas and a year as head coach at Western Kentucky.
Louisville’s defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, was already thinking about Murray State after the Cardinals’ Monday night win last week, according to Louisville’s The Louisville Courier-Journal.
“(Miami’s) in the past … Right after the game, come the next morning, you have to get ready for another opponent,” Grantham told The Courier-Journal. “We’ll have our hands full.”
Hatcher is confident that the roster Strong built will hold, particularly against the Racers’ offensive line.
“In games like this, what gets you is that you know, we’re one and a half deep at certain spots, two at the best at other spots. You play a front like Louisville, you know, they can rotate them every series and you just don’t see much difference. The guy’s still 320 pounds and can still run fast.”
Hatcher said Murray State has a big line, but that’s key in games against teams like Louisville.
He said the line is likely going to be the most difficult place to be.
Despite a step up in the level of play, Hatcher and his team haven’t deterred from their constant attitude of the season.
Racer Athletics will also see a paycheck from playing Louisville, likely nearing $500,000.
In 2012, the Racers received $450,000 to play Florida State University. Although the team lost 69-3, the department got to keep a much-needed boost of funding lost by recent budget cuts.
Not only will this game be a moneymaker for the football program, it will be a learning experience and reference point like any other game.
Hatcher said he’s excited to see the Racers play in such a large venue as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“I always joke about it,” Hatcher said. “I say: ‘Hey man, it’s fun all the way till toe meets leather, and then you get your paycheck and go home.’”
Hatcher said the coaching staff has been working since Friday to prepare for Louisville.
His goal, as always, is to win.
“But you know, there’s another part of you – if you don’t – did you play hard?” he said. “Did you go out there and have a good time like we talk about every week? Did you know your assignments? Did we improve in the areas that we discussed after the Union game? To me, those are the important things when you play a team that’s higher than you.”
The Racers kick off at 7 p.m. eastern time Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.