Louisville downs WKU, 35-21 in Season Opener

MatthewMcGavic

Year two of the Scott Satterfield era began just as year one ended - with a victory.

Building off the momentum from their 8-5 campaign in 2019, Louisville overcame a slow start and special teams miscues to down in-state rival Western Kentucky, 35-21 in the first game of the 2020 season.

Normally a run-first offense, the Cardinals (1-0, 0-0 ACC) found tremendous success through the air. Redshirt junior quarterback Micale Cunningham went 19-34 with a career-high 343 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. He helped to lead an offense that put up 487 total yards, while the Hilltoppers (0-1, 0-0 C-USA) could only muster 248.

However the beginning of this game was anything but smooth for the Cardinals. Center Cole Bentley was called for holding on the very first play from scrimmage and Louisville was forced to go three-and-out. Newly-crowned starting punter Logan Lupo bobbled the snap on fourth down to set the Hilltoppers up on the one-yard line, with RB Gaej Walker punching it in on the next play for the first score of the game.

It didn't take long for Louisville to collect themselves though. Cunningham found wide receiver Braden Smith for a 63-yard completion then tight end Ean Pfeifer for a 28-yard score on their very next drive to even things up. It was Smith's first reception as a Cardinal, and Pfeifer's third career touchdown in as many career receptions.

Smith, a JUCO transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College, had a tremendous first quarter in his Louisville debut. A 48-yard catch put him over the century mark, becoming the first player with 100 receiving yards in his first game as a Cardinal since Deion Branch in 2000 vs. UK. He finished the game with four receptions for 110 yards.

Things were dead even at seven a piece through the first fifteen minutes, but then Louisville's efficiency kicked up a notch in the second quarter. The defense held the Hilltoppers scoreless while the offense scored on three straight drives to take a 28-7 lead into the half.

Cunningham scrambled for a 14-yard score on the first play of the new period, running back Javian Hawkins collected his first touchdown of the season on a 19-yard run, as did tight end Marshon Ford on a two-yard curl route. Two of Louisville's final three drives of the half were over 85 yards and 10 plays or more.

Lupo's rough night continued into the third quarter, as his first punt of the second half would be blocked to set the Hilltoppers up inside the five-yard line yet again. WKU running back Malik Staples, the former UofL linebacker, punched it in from the one-yard line to cut the Cardinal advantage to just two scores.

But the Louisville offense responded, and in a big way. Cunningham uncorked what was almost a surefire interception, but wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick stepped in front of WKU safety Antwon Kincade to take a 70-yard reception to the endzone unscathed. Like Braden Smith, Fitzpatrick also finished with four receptions for 110 yards.

However it wasn't all offense from Cardinal Stadium. Louisville's defense did a much better job swarming to the ball coming out the half, particularly when pursuing WKU QB Tyrrell Pigrome. Weakside linebacker Monty Montgomery tallied Louisville's first two sacks of the season, both of which came on the same third quarter WKU drive and forced a turnover on downs. By game's end Pigrome would throw just 10-23 with 129 yards, while the WKU rushing attack was held to 119 yards on 35 attempts - mainly from Pigrome.

The Hilltoppers made things interesting with a late fourth quarter passing touchdown from the Maryland transfer to cut the deficit to two scores yet again, but failed to recover the onside kick. Louisville used their run game to bleed out the clock and secure their first victory of the season.

Louisville is set to host Miami next week for their ACC opener, with College GameDay also tagging along for the ride.. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

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