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Louisville Takes Collective Step Forward in Decisive Win Over USF

Following a 1-2 start to the year, the Cardinals looked much better on both side of the ball in their blowout win over the Bulls.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Coming off of their loss to Florida State last week, there wasn't a lot of buzz or hype surrounding the Louisville football program heading into their game against USF. Given how they lost to the Seminoles, a game in which the Cardinals had numerous opportunities to take control but still lost, it almost felt like a watershed moment for the national perception of head coach Scott Satterfield, as well as the local court of public opinion's thoughts on him.

No matter what Louisville did against USF, Satterfield wasn't going to get back all of that lost goodwill back overnight. On paper, the Bulls were a team that the Cardinals should easily take care of, and anything less would be an abject failure to a lot of fans. The best thing that the Cardinals could do, is just take care of business, and look good in the process.

As it turns out, that's exactly what Louisville did.

Early on in the game, the Cardinals not only were able to set the tone early on both sides of the ball against the Bulls, but showed clear improvements in several key areas. By the time the clock hit triple zeroes, Louisville had come away with a decisive 41-3 victory.

"It started in practice on Tuesday, our guys were very focused and very intent on having a good week of practice coming off of a disappointing loss with Florida State," Satterfield said. "Credit to them, because it’s easy to still feel sorry for yourself and not want to come back in here and work and think ‘we’re 0-2 in the conference, what are we going to do?’ But to their credit, they came back and worked hard and put together a really nice complete game today."

The discrepancy in total yards does a pretty good job of telling the story. Louisville was able to put up 542 yards of total offense, while USF was only able to muster 158 yards. Of course, when playing a team of USF's caliber, something close to this is obviously expected. However, a deeper dive into the stats show the collective progress that the Cardinals made in this game.

It's no secret that Louisville's offense had struggled to start the year. Quarterback Malik Cunningham had looked electric as a runner but mediocre as a passer, the wide receivers had trouble generating separation, and the offensive line had been just average. Through the first three games, the Cardinals' 418.7 yards per game ranked just 68th in the nation.

It wasn't just that Louisville put up an offensive performance that was more than 100 yards over their average, it was how they looked in the process. Cunningham spread the ball out and got several receivers involved in the plan of attack, with 11 different player catching a pass. The running backs played a large role in the passing game, and the three main backs (Evans, Cooley and Jordan) were all rotated in and out. The offensive line only allowed one sack, while allowing the running backs and Cunningham to rush for 283 yards.

Even though Cunningham did have a few bad throws, he was still pretty efficient through the air, and did a good job at taking what the defense gave him. He went 14-of-22 with 186 yards and a touchdown pass.

"It is really good to spread it around and distribute it," Satterfield said. "I thought we ran the ball good today again. Malik went over 100 yards for the third straight week. It puts pressure on defenses when you are able to run like that with him. Hopefully, that opens up the throw game.

"I thought he did a really nice job with the underneath passing game today. There were a lot of bend-but-don’t-break type coverages so he did it underneath. I thought that was good."

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As good as the offense was, the defense had an even better performance. Heading into this game, USF was averaging 204.0 rushing yards per game (41st in FBS), and had just put up 286 rushing yards in their near-upset of Florida. Conversely, Louisville had been allowing 201.7 rushing yards per game (117th in FBS).

What seemed to be a clear advantage for the Bulls turned out to be anything but. The Louisville front seven stifled USF's deadly rushing attack, flying to the ball and putting up arguably their best tackling effort of the season, allowing only 48 rushing yards in the process.

This in turn made USF one dimensional, and they struggled to get anything going in the passing game. Bulls QB Gerry Bohanon went just 9-of-17 on the day, throwing just 62 yards and a pair of picks to go with it. 

The excellence against the run and the pass nearly resulted in a shutout. A USF offense that had put up 21 points against then-No. 25 BYU and 28 points at then-No. 18 Florida, couldn't even break double digits against Louisville.

"Going into the whole week, we locked in, no playing around," outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah said. "Everybody's focused through the first two days of practice, to the walk throughs, and then to the run throughs, everybody was locked in. ... Everybody was doing their job. Preparation was key. Everybody fit their gaps. We did our jobs; we did everything we planned throughout the week.”

The most impressive stat of all was that Louisville committed just five penalties all game long. Heading into this game, they had averaged 10.0 per game, with many of them coming in bad situations.

That being said, it's not like a blowout wasn't expected. After all, Louisville was favored by 14.5 points at kickoff. But that being said, given how the season had started out, this was a performance that Louisville absolutely had to have. If they were going to make any noise at all down the stretch of the year, it all started with taking care of business against USF. Now, Louisville is back on track, and have something to build on when they travel up to Boston College next week.

“We needed this one bad," quarterback Malik Cunningham said. "We need all of them bad but since this was the next one, it was a good win for us. It’s the start of something good. We’ll come back and watch it tomorrow and put it behind us to get ready for Boston College. So, we got to come to work.”

(Photo of Malik Cunningham: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)

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