That was fun. Louisville tallied 227 rushing yards and scored 21 unanswered second half points to pull out a 28-21 win over Virginia. The win closes Louisville’s October with a 3-1 record, and their only loss coming to the reigning national champions. Most would say this is a good stretch the Cardinals have had.
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) October 28, 2019
Anyway, let’s get into our analysis of the top storylines from Wednesday’s preview and how it affected a very entertaining game.
Will Louisville’s defense rebound to have success?: B+
Compared to every other game Louisville played this October, this was by far the best game that the defense has played. Louisville allowed 311 total yards and forced two turnovers, both of which were instrumental in the win.
The first, an interception by Chandler Jones, stopped a Virginia drive late in the first half that had reached the red zone. Boosie Whitlow’s forced fumble in the third quarter was recovered by C.J. Avery, and Louisville would score a touchdown on the following drive to take the lead.
I think for the most part, Louisville’s defense had an excellent game. Virginia’s first touchdown came shortly after a blown third down play that saw Bryce Perkins hit Hasise DuBois deep on a 39-yard pass after bobbling a snap. Their second came when Louisville was struggling deep in its own territory, and their punt led to Virginia starting nearly at midfield.
If we were solely evaluating the defense in the second half, it would have to get an A grade. They constantly pressured Bryce Perkins and kept him out of rhythm in the passing game, sacking him four times and forcing multiple punts. That pressure was key in allowing Louisville to score 21 second half points and pull out the win.
Can Louisville’s passing game get back on track?: B-
Wet conditions kept the Cardinals from passing it as much as they probably wanted to, but nevertheless Louisville was also effective there. The Cards ended up 8-of-14 passing for 133 yards as a team, with Micale Cunningham (6-10, 126 yards, TD) being the leading contributor.
Cunningham’s lone touchdown throw came on a 77-yard pop pass to Tutu Atwell, who ended up accounting for 122 of Louisville’s 133 receiving yards.
For the fourth straight game, Evan Conley made an appearance off the bench in the second quarter. None of Louisville’s drives ended up going anywhere with the freshman on the field, as the Cardinals had six total yards of offense in the quarter. Louisville was constantly pinned deep with excellent punts by Virginia, but multiple sacks and stuffed runs caused the drives to stall. One of those stalled drives ended up being the reason for a Virginia touchdown, as they managed to start nearly at midfield on the drive.
Will special teams be the boost for either team in their win? A-
Special teams played a huge part in how the game ultimately played out. Blanton Creque’s missed field goal in the first quarter would have given the Cardinals a 10-7 lead over Virginia, and would have definitely nursed Louisville’s lead at the very end of the game.
The second quarter saw Virginia’s Nash Griffin launch a 78-yard punt that rolled and stopped at Louisville’s own 7-yard line. That would pin Louisville deep for their first possession with freshman Evan Conley at quarterback, and it ended up being a three-and-out. Virginia would end up with field position near midfield after Louisville’s punt, which ultimately led to the Cavaliers scoring a touchdown on the drive to go up 14-7. Louisville’s terrible field position would be a recurring theme in the second quarter, as their drives not only started deep in their own territory, but also quickly ended on three-and-outs.
Joe Reed would get a couple of solid returns during the game, but his biggest was the 39-yarder in the third quarter. That also took Louisville kicker Blanton Creque out of the game with an injury, forcing backup Ryan Chalifoux to enter the game for Louisville’s last point-after try.
Mason King was tremendous late in punting for the Cardinals. He had a 56-yard punt late in the fourth quarter that forced Virginia to start from its own one-yard line. Virginia’s ensuing drive would end in a punt, and Louisville would follow with a game-clinching touchdown from Javian Hawkins on their final drive.
Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell are still on the watch to go for over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, respectively. Hawkins now sits at 887 heading into November, needing just 28.25 rushing yards per game to get to 1,000 before the end of the regular season, and Atwell needs 83 receiving yards per game to get there. The last time that Louisville had both a 1,000 yard runner and receiver was 1999, when Arnold Jackson had 1,209 receiving yards and Frank Moreau had 1,289 yards rushing.
I mentioned a lot of key stats in Wednesday’s preview, and it seems like Louisville’s defense checked off every box they needed to get the win. Virginia’s two losses (and the Old Dominion win) saw the Cavaliers offense held to under 100 rushing yards; they had 78 against the Cardinals. Virginia had a -4 turnover margin entering the game; they went -2 against the Cardinals, and Louisville’s offense did not have a turnover. Add four sacks and a defense that was galvanized by the raucous crowd in attendance, and this was hands down the most spirited performance by that group all season. After a month that saw Louisville’s defense be tested repeatedly against some of the top offenses in the country in October, this is a very encouraging sign for them as they head into November.
They’ve also matched their 2018 total for interceptions after the Virginia game, and need just four sacks to double up on what they accumulated last year. Just throwing that out there.
It seems that the two quarterback experiment that Satterfield tested throughout October should end. Micale Cunningham had the offense rolling with his scrambling ability, but was pulled in the second quarter for Evan Conley. Conley’s drives were stuck in deep territory for the entire quarter, and ended quickly on three-and-outs. Cunningham came back in, and proceeded to deliver three scoring drives for Louisville in the win. Evan Conley has been huge for Louisville in wins over Boston College and Wake Forest, but eventually the two-QB experiment was going to have to one conclusion: who among the two would be the guy? Based on what happened on Saturday, Cunningham is Louisville’s best option at quarterback right now.
Javian Hawkins has been the star of the offense for Louisville, but an underrated aspect of his game is his physicality. There’s not a lot of backs his size that can handle a near 30-carry workload in the game, but Hawkins was up to the task and was solid throughout. He had a lot of tough runs in the second half that kept the crowd in it, and had two second half touchdowns that were key. I don’t know where he fits in the ballot for All-ACC running back, but he has to be right there with Travis Etienne and Cam Akers in my opinion. His impact on the Louisville offense has been very critical to their 5-3 run.
Which leads me to say this: Louisville is 5-3 at the end of October. I repeat, Louisville is 5-3 at the end of October. Anyone that was saying Louisville would be 5-3 before November back in the summer would have been, at best, extremely optimistic. I suppose Dae Williams was right when he said it wouldn’t be a rebuilding year:
This season will not be a rebuild year.
— Dae Williams (@AllDae25) July 24, 2019
With that in mind, Louisville has a great chance to leave 2019 with a bowl game. Winning out in November with three road games on tap is a tall order, but each game is winnable in its own way. Road games at Miami and N.C. State are both winnable, but Louisville will still likely be positioned as slight underdogs by Vegas. I think the Kentucky-Louisville game would be a toss-up as of right now, but that is entirely dependent on what UK’s quarterback situation looks like on November 30th. Syracuse is the only game where Louisville is for sure going to be the favorite, and if Louisville goes 0-2 against the Hurricanes and Wolfpack, that will be the game the Cards will look to lock up bowl eligibility.
Regardless, what Scott Satterfield has accomplished in year one at Louisville is extraordinary. There’s still growth to be made, but if Louisville gets to bowl eligibility and even gets to 7-5 or 8-4 by the end of the regular season, I don’t see how he doesn’t win ACC Coach of the Year. You could even make a case for him as national coach of the year in that scenario, but there are a lot of great coaches in the mix there (see: SMU’s Sonny Dykes, Appalachian State’s Eliah Drinkwitz). Either way, what an awesome ride this 2019 season has been for the Louisville Cardinals.
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) October 26, 2019