LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Five games, nothing close to a dud for the improving University of Louisville football team.
No letdowns. No sleepwalking. No signs of disorganization or confusion (other than one outrageous fourth-quarter defensive penalty). No crisis of confidence.
Absolutely, no quitting — and everybody knows what quitting looks like around here.
Saturday at Cardinal Stadium folks saw what something else looks like — a victory in an Atlantic Coast Conference football game.
The Cardinals (3-2) danced with danger for much of the afternoon but eventually planted a foot and took down Boston College, 41-39, even after briefly losing the lead as well as their starting quarterback. The Cards needed all 664 yards their offense generated to overcome the visitors.
But think about that last sentence. Six hundred sixty four yards on offense.
Go ahead and call it Louisville’s most entertaining and impressive victory this season. I am. The coaches and players will too.
U of L receiver Seth Dawkins said that during a players-only meeting this week, the Cardinals' players made a determination about this game.
"We've got to get this one," Dawkins said. "This is really a confidence booster."
It should be. The Cards have already topped their meager win total from last season. This was a grind. This was a team that overcame several splashes of adversity. This was a team that lost a 14-point lead, got it back, lost it again, got it back and then protected it for the final 62 seconds.
The Cardinals did it in a way they would never have been able to do it last season — with an avalanche of offense, including the power running game that will continue to be Scott Satterfield’s trademark as he continues to install more of his DNA into this program.
Louisville ran for 236 yards. Credit 172 (and a touchdown) to the irrepressible Javian Hawkins. The kid is barely 180 pounds and 5 feet 9, and he's out there pushing piles and crackling for 47 yard runs.
News flash: Hawkins out-rushed Boston College tank A.J. Dillon, the leading rusher in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 172-118.
The passing game also wasn’t bad. Heck, it was dazzling at times, involving two quarterbacks, seven receivers and a name change to ring up 428 yards and two touchdowns.
"I don't care who plays quarterback," Satterfield said. "I really don't as long as they move the offense."
Before the game, U of L announced that quarterback Malik Cunningham asked to be called by his birth name — Micale. He said that he made the change because he was tired of people looking at that name and calling him, "Michael," or "Michelle." He better inform Satterfield because after the game the U of L head coach referred to Cunningham as Malik. Twice.
"I respond to both (names) so it doesn't matter to me," Cunningham said, before smiling.
By either name, Cunningham looked like the answer for the rest of this season at the position — as long as he is healthy. Cunningham completed 13 of 18 for 288 yards.
But Cunningham hopped off the turf late in the third quarter with an injury to his right knee. With Jawon Pass also hurt and unavailable, that forced freshman Evan Conley into running the offense. He delivered, too, directing Louisville on 13-play, 96-yard drive, that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dez Fitzpatrick.
Conley showed that was no fluke by moving the Cards into position for Blanton Creque's game-winning 40-yard field goal with 1:02 to play. Credit Conley with 10 completions in 16 attempts for 140 yards and a touchdown.
"Evan got every snap (during the off week while the other quarterbacks were injured)," Satterfield said. "What happened during that stretch is that he got the respect of his teammates."
Creque already had their respect -- and kept it even though he hit the left upright with a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half. The Louisville players love Creque so much that the kid has his own nickname.
"Cold-blooded Creque," U of L receiver Seth Dawkins said. "That's what we call him. He's got ice water in his veins. I'm happy for him."
A season after Louisville huffed and puffed while failing to score in the second half of a 38-20 loss to the Eagles in Massachusetts, the Cardinals eclipsed that point total less than 25 minutes into the game. This time, they also showed the ability to adjust and rally in the second half.
Yes, a bowl game remains a long shot for the Cardinals. Their next two games — at Wake Forest, ranked 22nd, and No. 2 Clemson at Cardinal Stadium — will be against ranked opponents.
Getting to six victories will likely require one or maybe two road victories. The first crack comes at Wake. A week ago, the Demon Deacons played this same BC team on the road and survived by three. Satterfield’s team will be an underdog in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but that won’t be like trying to topple the New England Patriots or facing the defending national champions the following week.
So the Cards aren’t perfect — or even remotely close to it. There are gaps in the defense, especially the pass defense. Boston College passed for 304 yards and ran for another 259. Louisville won an old-fashioned shootout. The Cards need work on third-down conversions.
A defensive penalty for an illegal substitution coming out of a timeout late in the fourth quarter had Satterfield howling. Can't happen. Shouldn't happen. Somebody needs to run some stairs.
But this team is playing solid, proficient and entertaining football.
And winning football, too.
"We've learned a lot the last two weeks about our football team," Satterfield said. "When you win games like that you find out the true character of your team when you face adversity like this."
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