LOUISVILLE — One might have expected Louisville to be feeling some heat Thursday night.
After all, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium — a.k.a. The Oven — was, as one sign aptly pointed out, "Hot as L" with the temperature at kickoff a toasty 95 degrees.
And the Cardinals' 21-9 college football victory over Murray State was unimpressive.
U of L scored on three consecutive possessions in the first half to lead 21-0, then did very little right on offense the rest of the night.
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But the post-game mood was decidedly upbeat.
"Well, a win's a win and that's all that matters," said Will Stein, who completed 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"It's a game that we can learn a lot from," Coach Charlie Strong said. "It's good that we got the victory, and now we have a lot of work to do."
No wonder, as U of L ranks 119th of 120 teams in the country in returning starters, with only 11. Eighteen Cardinals got their first collegiate game action Thursday.
Only one starter returned on the offensive line, center Mario Benavides, to a U of L team that went 7-6 last year. Actually, Benavides missed Thursday's game because of an ankle injury, with Alex Kupper sliding over to snap the ball.
When U of L sputtered time after time in the second half "it was frustrating," Kupper said. "But you just have to become a veteran group and gel together, and let stuff just roll off your shoulders."
Louisville kicker Chris Philpot ran 40 yards on a fake punt to threaten on his team's first possession. But the Cards' Jeremy Anderson fumbled the ball away at Murray's 18.
But the Cards punched the ball in for touchdowns on their next three possessions to take a 21-0 lead.
First, Stein took a snap from Kupper and passed to Scott Radcliff for a 4-yard score — the latter's first TD reception as a Card. All three of those Cards are juniors and former walk-ons, all from Trinity High School.
Murray, 6-5 last year, gave the ball back on its 13, thanks to a botched punt snap.
Victor Anderson ran 11 yards to the 2, then waltzed in untouched on the next play. He led U of L's ground game with 61 yards on nine carries.
The third score came on a 39-yard pass from Stein to DeVante Parker. The reception was the first for Parker, a true freshman out of Ballard High School.
Murray's only points of the half came with three seconds left, when Kienan Cullen booted a 30-yard field goal.
Racers quarterback Casey Brockman missed on his first eight pass attempts. He finished the night 17 for 34 for 148 yards, with three interceptions.
In the second half, U of L's possessions went unsuccessful fake punt, punt, fumble, fumble in the third quarter, followed by three punts and the end of the game.
"Our rhythm changed," Kupper said. "We had an up-tempo offense going and then one little mistake led to another, and then a fumble. It slowed our tempo down and that, in turn, led to frustration, people missing blocks and stuff like that."
The second of those fumbles was by Anderson — the first of his career, on his 414th touch.
Murray responded with its only touchdown drive of the night, which covered 74 yards in 13 plays.
Mike Harris, who rushed 26 times for 116 yards, got the TD on a 22-yard run with 14:12 left.
However, that was all the Racers had to offer on offense the rest of the night.
Preston Brown led U of L tacklers with 10.5, followed by Dexter Heyman with 10. Murray free safety Julian Whitehead had eight.
"I thought defensively we forced many turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) and shut them out in the second half against a team that runs the ball," Murray Coach Chris Hatcher said. "If you watched us play last year, you'd know we had a hard time doing that to folks. I'm pleased with the way we performed.
"We could have played better offensively, but you have to take your hat off to their defense. They forced us to play badly at times."