LOUISVILLE — Steve Kragthorpe expected jitters, both from new Louisville quarterback Justin Burke and the rest of the new faces trying to find their way in the season-opener against Indiana State.
Here's what the Louisville coach didn't expect: 14 penalties. One third-down conversion. Three measly touchdowns against an opponent that hadn't won a game in nearly three years.
Good thing the Cardinals have two weeks to prepare for Kentucky.
Kragthorpe said Monday that while he's still not particularly pleased with the mistakes after a less than spectacular performance against the overmatched Sycamores, he's not ready to panic either.
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Burke will calm down. The offense will get in sync. The penalties — the ones he agreed with anyway — are correctable.
"The biggest thing is our execution has to be better on the offensive side of the ball," Kragthorpe said. "We've got to be better on third downs. Again we've got some plays available we've got to make in the passing game, early in the game, that can break things open."
Those plays were hard to come by early, as Burke — who admitted afterward he was probably a little too "amped up" — struggled to find a rhythm. He settled down enough to throw for 223 yards, including a handful of crisp passes in the third quarter as the Cardinals finally put the Sycamores away.
"I think he was seeing things extremely well," Kragthorpe said. "He was seeing what the coverage was, the adjustments the receivers were making according to the coverage. I thought a couple times he almost saw some things too fast and he got a little bit impatient and delivered the ball before the receivers were on the spot they were supposed to be on."
The timing will likely improve as Burke gets comfortable. The penalties, however, are perhaps more troubling. Louisville was flagged 14 times for 128 yards, meaning the Cardinals had more yards in penalties than the Sycamores had in total offense.
Kragthorpe blamed some of the flags on players getting a little too wound up in their first game of the season. Linebacker Brandon Heath picked up a personal foul on third down after inadvertently grabbing the facemask of Indiana State quarterback Chris Stutzriem. An interception Johnny Patrick returned for a touchdown was called back when linebacker Jon Dempsey was flagged for an illegal block behind the play.
"That's one of those things where you don't want to take away their aggressiveness," Kragthorpe said. "You want to make sure they're aggressive but make sure they know there's a time to pull off too."
As for the other penalties, while Kragthorpe didn't come out and blame the officials, he did say he was submitting a tape to the Big East director of officiating hoping to get a clarification on where the infractions occurred.
"We're going to challenge them," he said.
Either way, Kragthorpe knows the Cardinals need to be crisper — much crisper — in two weeks against Kentucky. The Wildcats (1-0) did what Louisville couldn't in their opener, dominating Miami (Ohio) 42-0 to post their first shutout in 13 years.
Kragthorpe, who is 0-2 against Louisville's biggest rival, said he was impressed by what he saw, particularly the play of quarterback Mike Hartline and UK's suddenly dangerous wide receiving corps.
Yet he's confident the Cardinals have some playmakers too. Trent Guy was electrifying on kick returns. Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell combined for 169 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. And wide receiver Scott Long, 10 months removed from major knee surgery, had four catches for 68 yards.