A look at the Murray State offense

Monday afternoon during the first game week press conference of the 2007 Louisville football season, defensive tackle Earl Heyman made the admirable and comforting remark that the team will treat Thursday's game against Murray State the same way they would treat a home game against the New York Jets.

Thankfully, we as fans have the luxury and freedom to be far more irresponsible.

To say that I'm looking past this year's opening game infers that I actually acknowledge it exits, which is barely true. To me Thursday is far more about tailgating, fully getting into football season mode, and seeing the guys play as a unit against someone other than themselves than it is about competition or, needless to say, Murray State. If there were ever game to be obnoxiously belligerent for (I'm a huge proponent of game day drinking being directly proportionate to the quality of the opponent, although I'm 100% against any level of intoxication that adversely affects your ability to be an active and conscientious fan), this is it.

Indeed, there will be no greater mismatch in college football than the one you'll see this Thursday inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville is a top ten team and a legitimate national title contender, while Murray hasn't won an Ohio Valley Conference game since November of 2005, and is coming off of a 2006 campaign that saw them capture a single victory and drop ten contests by a combined score of 346-136.

The list of things that I consider more likely to occur than Murray State beating Louisville on Thursday includes, but is by no means limited to, me starting at quarterback, Steve Kragthorpe calling a timeout in the third quarter so he can do the Samba at midfield, and Mozell Axson flying.

Still, there will be another team on the field tomorrow, and that fact requires me to talk seriously about the Racers for a bit, even though their coverage will undoubtedly be less substantial than any other Cardinal opponent this season. We'll start by taking a look at a Murray State offense that averaged just under 18 points and just over 285 yards per game a season ago.

I'm not even going to pretend like I've watched any Racer film to prepare for this, so know that everything you read here is based off of stats from previous years, or things that other people have written.

BACKS

The Racers return eight starters on offense, although one of the most important will likely be unable to lay claim to the same distinction this time next year. Owensboro Catholic product and Marshall University transfer Zach Barnard started 10 of 11 games at quarterback last season, but has been unseated by redshirt freshman Jeff Ehrhardt, who was named the starter for the U of L game on Aug. 17.

Ehrhardt, a native of St. Louis, has been consistent throughout the summer, and was ultimately selected because of his athleticism. But the quarterback competition might not be over just yet, don't be surprised if you see both Barnard and redshirt freshman Chris Franklin if Ehrhardt struggles against a Cardinal defense that certainly possesses the speed to keep his athleticism in check.

A pair of sophomores in Charlie Jordan and Josh Jones will split time as the feature back in Murray's Pro-I set. Jordan led the team in rushing as a freshman last season, scampering for 485 yards and a lone touchdown, while averaging a modest 3.6 ypg. Jones carried 61 times for 269 yards, and found the endzone once more than Jordan.

The duo didn't get much of a workout in Murray's final scrimmage, as Jones carried four times for a team-high 41 yards, while Jordan, presumably the starter, carried just once for three yards. Still, Jordan had little to prove after rushing for an impressive 64 yards on just six carries in a scrimmage less than a week prior.

RECEIVERS

The star of the Racer offense is junior wideout Rod Harper, who has caught at least one pass in 16 consecutive games. He caught a total of 48 in 2006, and found himself in the endzone a team-best eight times. He finished fifth in the OVC with an average of 52.1 yards per game.

Harper hopes that some good vibes will carry over from the end of last season, when he snagged 13 catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the Racers' final two games. He surpassed the 100-yard mark for the first time by catching five passes for 138 yards and two scores against Eastern Kentucky, and then followed that up with an eight catch, 80-yard performance in the season finale against Tennessee-Martin. He has scored a touchdown in two of the three scrimmages this summer.


If you name your kid Rod, the inevitable fact that people will
ultimately put the word "hot" in front of his first-name has to
at least be acknowledged at some point during the naming process.

A rare senior starter, Lee McGinnis holds down the other starting wideout spot. McGinnis played sparingly in his first three seasons, catching only four balls for 115 yards and a touchdown a year ago, but head coach Matt Griffin was so pleased with his progress this offseason that he named him the starter ahead of redshirt freshman Justin Rogers.

After Harper and McGinnis, the receiving corps will look to newcomers Antoinne Lightfoot and Marcus Harris to make plays. Harris, another St. Louis native, may be the most athletic player on the squad, and has seen some time at quarterback this summer.

The starting tight end is junior Ben Rush, who is a load at 6-2, 255-pounds. One of the most skilled blockers on the team, expect the deep back to take the ball to whichever side Rush lines up on. He isn't much of a threat when it comes to the passing game, however, having caught just six balls in his previous two seasons as a Racer.

Expect Zach Knight to be the guy on the field in most passing situations. The junior came on strong at the end of last season, catching eight balls for 103-yards in Murray's final two games.

O-LINE

The Murray State offensive line will look to improve on a 2006 season that saw them allow an OVC-worst 27 sacks that set their offense back 184 yards.

Senior Kentucky transfer Cody Morehead anchors the line at left tackle, and is joined on the left side by Cincinnati Colerain product Eric Ornella, who started eight games as a freshman in '06. Junior center Quinton Hankins started seven games last season, while right side starters Vincent Rivers and UC transfer Stephen Huff are completely green.

The good news for Murray is that they have experience, albeit predominantly youthful experience, in their two-deep. Four non-starters saw significant playing time in 2006, a fact that Griffin believes will account for a vast improvement in his second season as head coach.

2006 Stats

Murray State                                             Opponents

285.1 ...........Total Offense Per Game ...........430.4
95.3 ...................Rushing Offense .................231.8
7 ...........................TDs Rushing .........................26
189.8 .................Passing Offense .................198.5
16 .........................TDs Passing .........................23
17.7 ................... Scoring Offense ...................35.1
430.4 .......... Total Defense Per Game ..........285.1
231.8 ............... Rushing Defense ................ 95.3
26 ................ TDs Allowed Rushing ...................7
198.5 ............... Passing Defense .............. 189.8
23 ................. TDs Allowed Passing ................ 16
35.1 ................. Scoring Defense ................ 17.7
-3 ..................... Turnover Margin .................... +3
15-10 ................. Fumbles / Lost .................. 15-8
14 ................. Interceptions Thrown ................ 13
17.8 ............ Kickoff Return Average ........... 22.9
5.3 ................ Punt Return Average ............... 9.6
31.5 .............. Net Punting Average ............. 35.4
16 .......................... Sacks By ......................... 27
27 ...................... Sacks Allowed ..................... 16
30:04 ......... Avg. Time of Possession ........ 29:46
32% ............ 3rd Down Conversions ........... 47%
26% ............ 4th Down Conversions ............ 50%

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