LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In election terms, Pennsylvania is a swing state. It’s vitally important, a place where things can go either way.
For the University of Louisville football team, Saturday’s matchup at No. 21 Pittsburgh was a swing game. It was a chance to gain back momentum against a ranked opponent after a disappointing performance against Miami last week.
It could have gone either way. But despite being given several opportunities by its defense in the second half, Louisville could not find an offensive punch against a dominant Pittsburgh defense and fell 23-20 at Heinz Field.
The Cardinals had negative yardage in the first quarter and never could get a ground game going, save for a 75-yard touchdown run by Javian Hawkins in the second quarter that actually woke the Cardinals’ offense up.
Louisville took a 17-13 lead early in the second half on a 21-yard TD pass from Malik Cunningham to Tutu Atwell, but managed only a field goal the rest of the way. The teams combined for just a field goal each in the second half, and neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
"We really just couldn’t do much with that defensive front," Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. "We play some good D-lines this year, but they were different. They played fast, they played physical up front. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi’s got that defense rolling like he wants it. They’ve got a bunch of players who have been here a long time. They’ve redshirted these players, developed them. They’ve got good length, they’ve got good speed, they play hard, all the things you want in a defense. They kept the pressure on us all game defensively. We couldn’t find ways to run the ball. And in passing situations they did a great job of just pinning their ears back and getting to the passer. Even with all that, we still had a chance to go win the game with two and a half minutes left, we just didn’t get it done."
Louisville’s defense, which gave up some early chunks of yardage, battled to give the Cardinals a chance, one week after multiple breakdowns cost the team in its 47-34 to the Hurricanes. A C.J. Avery interception early in the fourth quarter set Louisville up around midfield, but a Malik Cunningham interception two plays later ended the Cards' chances.
The defense held, giving Cunningham and the offense another shot, but they were forced to punt after Cunningham was banged up on a third-down play that came up short. The Louisville defense held again, getting the Cards the ball back with just over two minutes to play.
But the offense couldn’t find an answer. A Cunningham scramble got the ball to Louisville's 28, but they just couldn't handle Pittsburgh's pressure. On fourth and 4, Cunningham was wrapped up, managed to get rid of the ball but it was picked off — his third interception thrown in the second half.
"Our defense played better today," Satterfield said. "It kept us in the game, held them to field goals. They gave us every opportunity to win the game. But it was a tough game, and we didn't get it done there at the end."
After the play, Cunningham remained nearly motionless on the field and was immobilized and removed from the field on a cart, though his hands appeared to be moving as trainers turned him over. Louisville and Pittsburgh players each took a knee as trainers worked on the Louisville quarterback. He did give a thumbs up before the cart took off. No update on his status has been given.
In his postgame interview, Satterfield said he personally had been given no update, but that, "(Cunningham) was moving everything while he was on the ground. ... I have not gotten an update. ... I just know he was moving everything and had feeling everywhere."
Pittsburgh, which came into the game leading the nation in sacks, dropped Cunningham seven times behind the line of scrimmage and registered 12 tackles for loss in the game.
The Panthers came into the game giving up 154 yards per game and held Louisville to 223 yards, just 107 in the air.
"Our defense is relentless," Pitt's Narduzzi said after the game. "But that's just Pitt defense."
Pittsburgh improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2014. Louisville fell to 1-2, 0-2 in the ACC, but has a bye week ahead to recover.
Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.