Despite trailing 14-0 early, Louisville overcame the deficit to secure their second Music City Bowl win in the last five seasons. The Cardinals got 100-yard games once again from running back Javian Hawkins and wide receiver Tutu Atwell, with the latter breaking the single-season school record for receiving yards, as Louisville (8-5) took a 38-28 win over Mississippi State (6-7) in the Music City Bowl.
Let’s take a look at how Louisville did in its top storylines from Friday’s preview.
Life after Mekhi Becton: B-
The big question with Louisville’s offense entering the game was how well the offensive line would play without star left tackle Mekhi Becton. In the one game without Becton (N.C. State), the Cardinals allowed three sacks, nine tackles for loss and had a season-low in rushing yards, as noted in the preview from Friday.
Louisville’s running game would fare much better than it did last month in Raleigh. The Cardinals allowed four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, but tallied 198 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry, highlighted by Javian Hawkins’s eighth 100-yard game of the 2019 season. Hawkins finished with 105 yards on 23 carries with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter. The redshirt freshman finished 2019 with 1,535 yards and nine touchdowns, third in single-season yards behind Lamar Jackson’s 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
Micale Cunningham also contributed heavily in the running game once again, tallying 81 yards on 16 carries. Cunningham’s scrambling ability also played a factor in Louisville’s passing game, with the quarterback being able to create time for himself to deliver big shots down the field.
Will Louisville be able to hit explosive passes against Mississippi State?: B+
In addition to his ability as a runner, Cunningham was also having a ton of success against Mississippi State’s secondary that started two true freshmen at cornerback, and saw star defensive back Cameron Dantzler sit out of the bowl game.
Louisville had 312 passing yards and three touchdowns, 279 of which came from Cunningham. The other 33 came on a touchdown pass from Tutu Atwell — the former Miami Northwestern High School quarterback-turned-star receiver — to Marshon Ford to give Louisville its first points of the game in the second quarter. The Cardinals averaged 18.4 yards per completion, which ends up being the season-high for Mississippi State in 2019.
Atwell’s touchdown pass would be the start of what would eventually turn out to be another stellar night for the sophomore. He had a career-high nine catches for 147 yards, and in doing so, broke U of L’s single-season receiving yards record (previously held by Harry Douglas). He finishes with 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns, the latter which also ties a school record.
Marshon Ford’s two touchdown catches ends up finishing his 2019 season with seven on the year on 19 catches. Devante Peete also had a 24-yard touchdown catch down the sideline in the third quarter, his first since October 2015 when he was a true freshman.
Can Louisville contain Kylin Hill and force Mississippi State into third-and-long situations? B
Louisville’s defense was not perfect by any means, especially in the first half. Louisville’s first drive ended with a lost fumble inside the five-yard line, and that parlayed into a 99-yard touchdown drive by Mississippi State. The Bulldogs also got another touchdown in the second quarter to go up 14-0, powered by a running game that was having its way with Louisville’s front seven at the time.
In addition, during Mississippi State’s second touchdown drive, Louisville linebacker Dorian Etheridge was ejected for kicking a Mississippi State player while he was trying to get out from underneath them.
Louisville’s first touchdown took a little bit of the momentum back, but a recovered fumble on Mississippi State’s ensuing kickoff swung it mostly to the Cardinals favor. Louisville wasn’t able to score on that subsequent drive, but it was enough to put a spark in the team for a 31-0 run.
While Louisville’s offense kept sustaining drives and eventually built a 31-14 lead, their defense played very inspiring football during the mid-portions of the game. The Cardinals tallied four sacks and ten tackles for loss, both of which were season-highs against FBS competition. All four sacks were particularly timely, as they led to eventual punts.
One exception, though, was the Chandler Jones sack in the third quarter. That put Mississippi State in a third-and-22 situation that led to a Tommy Stevens fumble, and Khane Pass returning it for a touchdown. The fumble return touchdown was the first for Louisville since Rodjay Burns did the same against Western Kentucky in mid-September at Nissan Stadium.
Two late touchdowns made the score a tad bit closer towards the end, but Louisville’s great defense during the second and third quarter was a huge catalyst in their win.