Louisville looking for big-play receivers

Louisville's Adam Froman (9) avoided the pass rush as he looked downfield for a receiver last week against Kentucky. Louisville's longest completion went for 16 yards.
Louisville's Adam Froman (9) avoided the pass rush as he looked downfield for a receiver last week against Kentucky. Louisville's longest completion went for 16 yards.

LOUISVILLE — Louisville Coach Charlie Strong named Adam Froman the starting quarterback before the season opener against Kentucky because of how efficiently the senior ran the offense.

Now, Strong would like Froman's teammates to give him a little help.

The Cardinals struggled throwing the ball last weekend, managing just 127 yards through the air against a Kentucky secondary that had to replace three starters.

Strong is looking for major improvement on Saturday when Louisville (0-1) hosts Eastern Kentucky (0-1).

"We need to find some playmakers," Strong said.

Outside of running back Bilal Powell, who rushed for 153 yards and scored Louisville's only touchdown on an 80-yard sprint down the sideline, there weren't many against the Wildcats.

Strong counted at least five drops by Louisville's wide receivers, including a couple in crucial situations. While allowing for some opening-game jitters and growing pains associated with learning a new offense, it still wasn't good enough for Strong.

Troy Pascley and Andrell Smith both let potential big plays bounce off their fingertips. Froman's other big shot down the field was intercepted.

"Guys have to make catches," Strong said. "You have no choice ... It's competitive excellence. When your name or your number's called you have to make plays, and that didn't happen."

Finding big-play receivers was a given at this program not so long ago. The Cardinals ranked fourth in the nation in passing in 2007, slipped to 64th in 2008 before falling to 71st last year.

While it's early, the 127 yards against the Wildcats was only the 90th-best performance in the season's opening weekend.

Strong isn't expecting the offense to light up the scoreboard, but getting downfield without having to hand the ball to a running back would be nice. Louisville's longest completion against the Wildcats went for 16 yards.

"You've just got to be patient," said wide receiver Doug Beaumont, who caught three passes for 40 yards against Kentucky. "We've got some talented guys, but they're young. We know we can go out there and get downfield."

Despite the lack of a vertical passing game, Louisville managed to put together two drives that lasted at least 16 plays. Both possessions, however, ended with field goals.

"We've got to finish," Froman said. "When you've got the ball that long, as effective as we were, you've got to get in the end zone."

EKU (0-1), which struggled in a 31-9 loss to Missouri State last week, hopes to have cornerback Jeremy Caldwell at 100 percent. Caldwell, a candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given annually to the top defensive back in the FCS, played just a handful of snaps against Missouri State while recovering from a hernia.

"If the ball is in the air and it's coming his way, you'll want to sit on the edge of your seat," EKU Coach Dean Hood said. "We don't get a lot of those kinds of guys at our level."

The Colonels, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, haven't beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team since knocking off the Cardinals in 1985.

That season was Howard Schnellenberger's first with the Cardinals. A quarter-century later, Strong finds himself in the same position as Schnellenberger did: rebuilding the program.

Consider Hood already impressed, particularly with the discipline Louisville showed against Kentucky.

"I thought I might see a lot more Bad News Bears-type stuff," Hood said. "But they played sharp and hung in there."