LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rewarding as Sunday's season-opening victory was for No. 23 Louisville, the Cardinals didn't celebrate for long.
A short work week leading up to Saturday's game against Missouri State helped the Cardinals focus on the task at hand — a strong follow-up. Especially after last season, when wins against Murray State, Kentucky and West Virginia were followed by letdowns against FUI, Marshall and Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals certainly aren't looking past the Bears, who trailed No. 21 Kansas State 16-9 after three quarters last week before the Wildcats scored 35 points in the fourth. With North Carolina visiting Louisville next week and several areas of concern, Louisville is mindful of how a team such as Missouri State can quickly expose some blemishes.
"We're not going to be complacent," running back Senorise Perry said. "We're just going to stay humble and keep working one game at a time."
Offensively, Louisville believes the 466-yard output in its' 32-14 victory against Kentucky is just a baseline. While the Cardinals don't expect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to duplicate his near-perfect season debut of 19-for-21 passing for 232 yards in three quarters of action — one of his two incompletions was an out-of-bounds throwaway — he's clearly more comfortable with the West Coast offense.
He completed passes to 11 different receivers on Sunday, finding them in traffic and sometimes while throwing off-balance. Bridgewater's first completion, a third-down pass to a diving Damian Copeland for 23 yards from the 2, also showed his poise.
The trick might be getting the sophomore to slow down his execution of the fast-paced offense. While Bridgewater often kept Kentucky guessing, his quick cadence threw off his offensive line as well.
"We need to be more efficient, more poised in our no-huddle," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "There are times we miss things. We only had one missed assignment, which was good.
"But I thought Teddy played too fast, he ran through his progressions a little too fast and that's the pace of the game, he's thinking about the next play. That's one big thing, not only for him but for the team."
One priority against Football Championship Series-level Missouri State will be developing depth, particularly behind Bridgewater. That might sound strange considering the presence of senior and former starter Will Stein, but the coaching staff wants him to be sharper than he was after relieving Bridgewater for the fourth quarter.
The most encouraging area was a ground game that saw juniors Perry and Jeremy Wright thrive. Perry finished with a game-high 108 yards including a 47-yard touchdown run while Wright rushed 22 times for 105 and three scores, and the Cardinals still have Dominique Brown waiting in the wings.
Louisville's biggest concern will be shoring up a defense that gave up 373 yards to Kentucky. To be fair, the Cardinals' reaction to the no-huddle offense improved as the game progressed and they were able to contain Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith.
Smith still passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, and now the Cardinals will face Bears quarterback Ashton Glaser after he threw for 257 on 22 of 44 attempts. An offensive line that returned four starters didn't allow the Missouri transfer to be sacked and he went on to find seven targets, led by junior Dorian Buford (seven catches, 114 yards).
"It is a team that has a spread offense," Strong said, "so, they do a good job of throwing the ball around."
Though Louisville sacked Smith twice, recovered two fumbles and held Kentucky to 93 rushing yards, Coach Charlie Strong wants more aggression from a defense used to creating opportunities for the offense. Since that unit is showing signs of holding up its end, he said the defense must step up as well.
For this week, the Cardinals' overall plan is keeping up what they started on Sunday.
"You like to think that we're more mature now that we've played a lot of games," Strong said. "You can always go back to last season, and we beat Kentucky and we followed it up and got beat. We cannot allow that to happen and we're at home. ... (You'd) like to think that you don't have to go through it again."