LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This was, simply put, the best overall effort of the season for the University of Louisville football team.

Two weeks after a deflating defeat at Wake Forest, the Cardinals and coach Bobby Petrino went back to work, gathered themselves, and after a slow start, roared to life to light up visiting Virginia 38-21 before a crowd of 46,787 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The victory makes the Cards bowl eligible, and establishes some momentum for the season’s stretch run, after losing three out of four.

Credit the defense, more than any single unit, for establishing a tone for the Cardinals.

Do not adjust your computer. Neither your phone screen, nor your writer, is cracked. The Cardinals allowed Virginia just 10 yards rushing in the first half and repeatedly gave the offense chances to put the game away.

The Cardinals, who had just four quarterback sacks in the past five games, had three in the first half, one of which forced a fumble.

The offense couldn’t quite take advantage. Lamar Jackson had a 68-yard touchdown run after Louisville had fallen behind 7-0, and the Cards led 17-7 late in the half, but self-inflicted miscues – including a fumble at the Virginia 25 after the special teams pinned the Cavaliers deep and the defense forced a punt -- helped Virginia stay close, and the Cavaliers cut it to 17-14 with a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter.

In the second half, the offense began to click, and for the first time this season, the Cardinals were getting significant contributions from all three phases of the game.

The Cardinals scored on three of their first four second-half possessions, with only a fumble marring the effort, and would’ve scored on the fifth had Blanton Creque’s field goal attempt not gone wide right.

Jackson hit Jaylen Smith with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to break the game open, one of them a career highlight-reel catch, a one-handed grab in the end zone.

Defensively, the Cards made plays they haven’t made consistently all season. They got pressure on the quarterback, with six quarterback hurries, four sacks and five tackles for loss. James Hearns was a one-man wrecking crew, with three sacks and three forced fumbles. Louisville's defensive reserves gave up a 12-play touchdown drive for Virginia late in the game, or it would've pitched a second-half shutout.

And then, again, there was Jackson. The Heisman winner passed for 195 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 147 yards and a touchdown, posting his 10th career game of 300 yards or more.

Now think about this: Lamar Jackson crossed the 3,000-yard passing threshold, making him the first player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for at least 3,000 in consecutive seasons.

It looked like the team most Cardinal fans expected to see all season. Virginia had lost two of its past three, but has always given Louisville trouble.

Credit Louisville’s players and coaches, who could’ve packed it in, for putting a solid game together, and trying to establish a tone for the end of the season.

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