The Review: Louisville defeats NC State 34-20

The three week wait is finally over for Louisville fans. The Cardinals secured their sixth win last night in a 34-20 victory over NC State, becoming bowl eligible for the ninth time this decade.

Let’s dive into a review of the top points of interest from the NC State preview.

How will NC State’s 3-3-5 defense stack up against Louisville’s running game?

The answer: surprisingly easy. The Wolfpack held the Cardinals to a season-low 77 rushing yards, shutting down the vaunted Louisville running game all night long. NC State’s 3-3-5 defense was able to successfully diagnose Louisville’s zone plays and stuff Hawkins and Hall. Louisville only had a couple of 10+ yard runs from either running back in the game and forced the Cardinals to try and beat them through the air.

Can Louisville’s defense confuse Devin Leary (or other NC State QBs?)

I wouldn’t say Louisville’s defense confused Leary by any means, but they executed enough to win the game. Leary completed 24-of-44 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, but threw an interception that led to Louisville’s first touchdown drive of the game. The Louisville defense did get two sacks, three turnovers, and held the Wolfpack to 8-of-17 on third down conversions.

The stops, in particular, were timely in the second half as they helped Louisville go on a 20-0 run throughout the third quarter.

Can Louisville’s offense play a clean game?

In the first half, it looked like Louisville was on its way to another dismal performance due to numerous mental mistakes. The Cardinals had six penalties in the first half with three sacks allowed, including a stretch where quarterback Micale Cunningham picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed Louisville to punt inside its own 10-yard line. That punt would only go 17 yards, and ended up with NC State taking the lead with a touchdown drive.

But Louisville rebounded with a strong second half that had a ton of big plays through the air, and much cleaner play on offense. The Louisville offense had four penalties in the second half, but did not allow a sack in the second half. They also went the entire game without committing a turnover, winning the turnover margin 3-0. The +3 margin was the highest margin recorded by Louisville since their 2017 win over Syracuse (+4).

Other Notes

If you had told anyone that Louisville would record under 100 rushing yards in any game this season, most would have assumed that their opponent won the game. That wasn’t the case here, as Micale Cunningham threw for 242 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. Three of those four touchdown passes went 40+ yards, highlighting Louisville’s big-play potential that has been a big part of their offense this season.

Another big part of their offense has been the aforementioned running game, which wasn’t great, but did see Javian Hawkins reach a huge milestone. The redshirt freshman reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 67 yards on 16 carries, becoming the first Louisville running back to hit that benchmark since Bilal Powell in 2010.

Also on milestone watch is Tutu Atwell, who now sits at 920 yards and nine touchdowns with two games left in the regular season. 80 more yards separate the sophomore from hitting 1,000 for the season, which would make him the first Louisville wideout to reach that milestone since Harry Douglas in 2007. One more touchdown would also make him the first Louisville receiver to have 10+ touchdowns since DeVante Parker in 2013.

And as we have mentioned before, if Hawkins and Atwell both reach those milestones, it would be the first time since the turn of the millennium that Louisville had a 1,000-yard runner and receiver in the same season.

Best of all, Louisville gets both back for the 2020 season. They also get Cunningham and Conley back while adding Chubba Purdy and Tee Webb into the fold. It is a little early to be prognosticating about next season, but it’s hard not to be excited about it if you’re a Louisville fan.

Louisville got four passing touchdowns from Micale Cunningham. Who threw number five? That would be kicker Ryan Chalifoux, who bootlegged to the right on a fake field goal and found Marshon Ford while under pressure in the back of the end zone. Chalifoux became the first non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass for Louisville since Patrick Carter in the 2007 Orange Bowl, and he now has a 99.4 QBR and 488.8 passer rating. All I’m saying is Ryan Chalifoux deserves your vote for the 2019 Heisman Trophy.

Not to be lost in the fold is Dez Fitzpatrick and Marshon Ford, both of whom had huge plays in the win. Fitzpatrick came through with four catches for 72 yards and the long touchdown in the second quarter. Ford had three catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns. He continues to validate on a weekly basis why he has a legitimate case for most underrated player on the Louisville roster. Ford’s run blocking is extremely valuable in Scott Satterfield’s system, but when he can provide a boost in the passing game, that is huge for Louisville’s offense.

Also coming up huge in this game for Louisville’s defense was linebacker Dorian Etheridge. The junior finished with 11 tackles, 3 PBU’s, and an interception that led to Louisville’s first touchdown drive on the other end.

To wrap it up, Louisville is bowl eligible in 2019. That is something a majority of local and national pundits did not see coming this season (and I am no exception to that, for sure). You have an infinite supply of adjectives to describe the feeling a Louisville fan will have for this season; cathartic, fulfilling, successful, etc. I choose gritty because it took a lot of it in their four conference wins (Boston College, Wake Forest, Virginia, NC State) to get to this point. And more could be on the way; I won’t be as confident to say they will happen, but I’ll understand if people believe Louisville can win their final two games.

But for now, Louisville has one final home game next week. The Cards return home on Saturday for Senior Day against Syracuse, 4:00 p.m. ET on the ACC Network.

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