Louisville (2-1) pulled out a 38-21 win over Western Kentucky (1-2), extending their winning streak over the Hilltoppers to 11 games.
As always, the review will take a look at our pregame article from last week, grade those outcomes accordingly, and offer some deeper insight into today’s win.The Report Card
Can Louisville’s Running Game Continue to be Great?: B
With Jawon Pass sidelined from the WKU game due to turf toe, backup quarterback Malik Cunningham made his first start since the regular season finale against Kentucky last November.
Overall, the running game for Louisville was able to set the tone for their offense. It was a season-low 210 yards rushing, but they also did it on 51 carries. The running game was very fluid in the first half, with Louisville able to attack via Javian Hawkins, Hassan Hall, and Malik Cunningham. All three had at least 12 carries each, with Hawkins leading the team in rushing yards (96) and scoring his first touchdown of the season.
Jawon Pass Malik Cunningham Start the Game Hot?: B+
I said in the pregame analysis that Louisville needed to come out of the gate firing with their passing game, and they absolutely did. With Pass out of the game though, it was Malik Cunningham who would have to step up in his absence.
And that he did. The first touchdown of the game came on a nine-yard pop pass to Tutu Atwell, one of three the sophomore receiver would end up scoring. Atwell’s other two touchdowns came on deep throws; Cunningham found Atwell on a 46-yard touchdown pass downfield in the second quarter, pushing Louisville’s lead to 14-0.
After Cunningham exited the game, freshman Evan Conley entered in the third quarter. Conley ended up throwing his first career touchdown pass to Atwell on his first full drive, hitting Tutu for a 62-yard bomb downfield.
Overall, the impact of Tutu Atwell helped Louisville’s passing attack have arguably its best game all season. As a team, Louisville completed 10-of-16 passes for 205 touchdowns and three touchdowns, no interceptions.
Coach Satterfield talks about the QB situation. pic.twitter.com/suTm92NSpi
— CSZ (@CardSportZone) September 15, 2019
How Will WKU Handle Louisville’s Front Seven?: B-
The first half was absolutely stellar for Louisville’s defense. The Cardinals held Gaej Walker to 14 yards on six carries, forcing Steven Duncan to beat them through the air. Duncan did complete 9-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, but most drives were stalled due to timely plays by the defense.
Facing a 24-point deficit entering the second half and their running game practically going nowhere, the Hilltoppers were left no choice but to throw the ball. Duncan completed 16-of-32 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals weren’t able to tally any interceptions for the third straight game, but they did get a key defensive touchdown towards the end of the first half. Rodjay Burns picked up a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a score, the first defensive touchdown by the Cardinals since September 2017.
It can’t be stated how much of an impact Tutu Atwell has on the offense. He scored three touchdowns on four catches, and now has four scores in three games this season. For what head coach Scott Satterfield is trying to accomplish with his offense, he is a guy that can blow the top off defenses in multiple ways. With him, Hawkins and Hall in a constant rotation in the offense, Louisville always has a guy that can break a big play. Time will tell, though, if they can keep it up as the competition gets tougher.
Moving from receivers to quarterbacks, Louisville finds itself in an interesting predicament over the next week or so. It didn’t emerge until late in the week that quarterback Jawon Pass would not play due to an injury, so that left Malik Cunningham to play. And then when Cunningham had to leave, freshman Evan Conley got reps in the second half. Depth is going to be a key storyline to watch for Louisville football in 2019, and the quarterback position was among them. Tutu Atwell did sort of allude to the idea of playing quarterback if all three were to go down, and hopefully it doesn’t come down to that. But so far, Louisville’s quarterbacks have improved through each week this season. That’s something Louisville needed to have heading into conference play.
And another solid performance by Louisville’s running game, which has been normal for the Cardinals in 2019. Hawkins had a near 100-yard game, and right now is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. The fact that Louisville hasn’t had a running back over the millennium mark in rushing since 2010 is fascinating, but I guess Hawkins is set to change that.
2-1 is where we expected Louisville to be, and now the fun begins with conference play. I’ll say it again, these next three games are a huge opportunity for the Cardinals. Florida State, Boston College, and Wake Forest are the games Louisville should win if it wants to feel comfortable about a possible bowl bid. And with a road trip to Tallahassee on the horizon next week, the game in Nashville might have served as a “soft” transition, if you will, to beginning true road play.