LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the early moments of the COVID-19 delayed 2020 season, the University of Louisville football team was testing negative for offense.
An incomplete pass, a couple of runs for 3 yards. A snap that punter Logan Lupo couldn’t field, leading to a quick WKU touchdown. The Cards were backed up again on their second drive. A couple of rushes for one yard, 3rd and 9 at their own 9.
But they would get through this, together. And in fact, in the second game of Scott Satterfield's second season as head coach, the Cardinals will play host to ESPN's College GameDay next Saturday when Miami visits for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
As for their offensive negativity, the Cards beat it with some social distance. Braden Smith ran away from the WKU defense to connect on a 63-yarder from Micale Cunningham, who then hit Ean “Touchdowns only, Please” Pfeifer for an 18-yard score. And Louisville was back where it left off, using big plays to cruise to a 35-21 victory before a restricted crowd of 11,179 in Cardinal Stadium.
Cunningham was outstanding, particularly in the first half, posting the first 300-yard passing game of his career with a career-high 343 yards and 3 TD passes. He also ran for 71 yards and a score.
The crowd noise was (mostly) fake, but the offense was real.
Louisville picked up yardage in chunks – using 4 plays of more than 40 yards and 13 of 10 or more to score 28 straight points to finish the first half.
If there was a surprise on this rainy night, it was the effectiveness of Louisville’s defense, which gave up only 38 yards in the second quarter and 63 in the third, including 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, allowing the big-play offense to build its comfortable cushion.
If there was a disappointment (beyond the punting game, which allowed for two WKU touchdowns), it was the Cardinals inability to drop the hammer in the fourth quarter. The offense could not sustain one final drive to put the game out of reach.
After scoring with just over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, Louisville’s next three drives used up just 11 plays and went just 17 yards.
When Tyrrell Pigrome hit Mitchell Tinsley for a 12-yard TD with 5:40 left the game, the Cardinals found themselves still in a ballgame, up just 14 in a contest they had controlled from the start. And when WKU recovered an onside kick (that was eventually ruled not to have traveled 10 yards in a video review), the Cardinals had a moment to consider the dangers of not putting games away when they had a chance.
Still, they took the ball at that point, imposed their will on the WKU defense, and put the game away.
On the up side, it was a clean game for the Cardinals. After a penalty on their first play, the Cards were flagged only three times. They put up nearly 500 yards of offense. They allowed fewer than 250 yards.
Dez Fitzpatrick and Smith each wound up with 110 receiving yards. Smith became the first Louisville player to total 100 yards receiving in his Louisville debut since Deion Branch did it against Kentucky in 2000. And Pfeifer became the first Louisville player ever to make his first three career receptions all TD catches.
It was football. And it was competent football. Louisville showed its weapons. It also showed some weaknesses.
More than anything, it continued to build on the promise it displayed last season. This could be fun, no matter how weird it looks.
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