Louisville continues its pause from the national spotlight Saturday when it hosts Murray State of the Football Championship Subdivision.
The 17th-ranked Cardinals (3-1, 1-1 ACC) are in the soft middle between conference bookends. After a high-stakes 47-21 loss to then-No. 3 Clemson, Louisville rolled to an easy 42-3 win over hapless Kent State last Saturday in a game in which Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson played just 44 snaps.
Now the Cardinals get the Racers, who are 1-3 and coming off a 27-7 home loss to Austin Peay. It's the final tune-up for Louisville before it plays on Thursday, Oct. 5, at North Carolina State, which won at Florida State last week.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino sees value in this two-week stretch against inferior competition, allowing the team to use more players and build depth.
"I thought we got a lot of good things done this past weekend," Petrino said.
"I was really happy with the way our defense played. It's fun to watch the video. They were very physical. They ran full speed to the ball. ... Offensively, we got the ball in a lot of different guys' hands. Lamar threw the ball for a very high percentage."
Jackson rushed for 337 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games. He also passed for 1,387 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 63.1 percent of his throws. He is second in the nation in total offense, gaining 431.0 yards per game, 13.8 yards per game short of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen.
Last Saturday's romp could have been even uglier had Louisville not turned the ball over four times -- two interceptions and two fumbles.
"Didn't like the fact that we had the interceptions. One of them, certainly wasn't (Lamar's) fault, it went right through the receiver's hands," Petrino said. "But, the other one was a bad decision -- bad throw, really. Decision was right, just wasn't a good throw. But I thought he played well. I thought he executed."
The Golden Flashes attempted just five passes against Louisville, and Petrino said he expects Murray State to be a better test for Louisville's secondary, although that is debatable.
Murray State true freshman quarterback Corey Newble made his first start last week but was not effective through the air, completing 18 of 29 passes for just 50 yards. Newble is a running threat and led the team with 60 rushing yards in the loss to Austin Peay.
"Not extremely proud of the outcome Saturday," said Racers coach Mitch Stewart. "I thought for the most part defensively we played well enough to win, especially in certain spots. Offensively, we were atrocious. I take full responsibility for that.
"When you're trying to manage and take care of a new quarterback, a freshman quarterback, a lot of times in doing that you don't give other people the opportunity to go make plays. I think maybe we got a little too cautious in some of the things we were doing, and it showed."
Louisville's defense will be get back linebacker Stacy Thomas, who was suspended for the Kent State game for a violation of team rules. Standout cornerback Jaire Alexander might be able to return; he suffered a knee injury in the opener against Purdue and missed the past three games.
Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who made 22 catches for 379 receiving yards in the first three games, missed the Kent State contest because of a wrist injury that is expected to keep him out Saturday. Wideout Dez Fitzpatrick is a top target for Jackson, averaging 19.58 yards on his 12 catches, four of which have gone for touchdowns.
The Cardinals last week played the fourth quarter with redshirt freshman Jawon Pass at quarterback and used nearly every available receiver and running back. This weekend's game figures to be more of the same as Louisville ramps back up for a big ACC game next week.
Stewart said the Cardinals have "one of the best defenses that we will ever face."
"It's always a fun place to play up there in Papa John's Stadium," he added. "But you have to be careful. This is a coach, he makes no bones about it. If he has a chance to put a bunch of points on you, he will. Defensively, if he has a chance to shut you out, he will. He should. That's the way I would be too."