Final Thoughts and Observations on Louisville vs. Eastern Kentucky

The Cardinals won 30-3 in their home opener against the Colonels to claim their first victory of the season.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville football finally found the win column, but it wasn't exactly one you would necessarily brag about. Taking on FCS foe Eastern Kentucky in their first home game of the season, the Cardinals overcame another slow start, and notched their first win of the year with a less than impressive 30-3 victory over the Colonels.

Before we close the book on the home opener against EKU, and transition into week three's primetime matchup against UCF, I wanted to provide some closing thoughts and observations from the game:

  • Heading into this game, there was very little Louisville could do that would cause fans to come away happy, even in a blowout win. But, in my opinion, as long as they looked good while winning big (such as properly executing), instead of looking sloppy and/or undisciplined, that would be the one instance where fans could actually be satisfied in a win. Well, that's not exactly what came to pass.
  • Once again, the offense was slow to get going right out of the gates. It's one thing to struggle when facing an Ole Miss squad that is now ranked as the No. 18 team in the country, but punting on four of your first five drives of the game -- against an FCS opponent -- is flat out inexcusable. 
  • Speaking of inexcusable, I want to talk about the coaches' offensive game plan. If you were going to use any matchup as a "get right game" in terms of what you run on offense, this was the game to do it. Instead, we got more of what we have seen since the start of the 2020 season. Stretch left, stretch right, throw on third down, maybe sprinkle in a short side speed option or a run on 2nd or 3rd and long. I get that running the ball is Satterfield's bread and butter, but running the ball on 11 of your 14 second downs that were six yards or longer is not winning football. It's predictable football.
  • It would be one thing if you were good at it this simple attack. But so far, the jury is still out on even that. Not only did Louisville average just 4.2 yards per carry against EKU, but they went just 4-for-14 on third down conversions, and converted none of their fourth opportunities in which they ran the ball. Plus, several early deep shots didn't materialize, and the lone offensive score in the first half came on a busted read option. Again, this wasn't against Clemson or Miami, this was against an FCS opponent - someone who you are expected to pound into oblivion. You can be bad, you can be boring, but you absolutely cannot be both.
  • Enough of the X's and O's, let's talk about the Jimmy's and Joe's. The offensive line continues to be a major area of concern. While they weren't outright awful like they were against Ole Miss, they did not generate the push like an FBS team is supposed to when facing an FCS foe. Credit to Jalen Mitchell for even coming close to 100 yards rushing, because there were not a lot of rushing lanes to choose from. Not to mention that the passing game is almost being limited to mainly short throws, because that's all that quarterback Malik Cunningham has time for. Moving forward, I think Bryan Hudson and Michael Gonzalez need to start running with the ones a lot more, because early on, they have shown they are the most consistent linemen Louisville has at the moment.
  • I don't want to say Cunningham looked worse in the first half against EKU vs. the first half vs. Ole Miss, but he certainly wasn't better. He had several throws that were offline, on top of the fact that his receivers had the occasional drop (or drops in Tyler Harrell's case) or trouble creating separation. To his credit, he did look much more comfortable staying in the pocket and going through his reads than he did against Ole Miss. He just has to execute, and I still have faith that he will. Also would help if he got a consistent pocket to stand in, but I digress.
  • For the second straight week, it's hard to really critique the state of Louisville's running backs, considering the lack of help from the offensive line they are getting. Like I said earlier, kudos to Jalen Mitchell on the 90-yard, 5.0 YPC average. Hassan Hall and Trevion Cooley also looked good in the short time they had.
  • Ahmari Huggins-Bruce... c'mon man. I will never understand why wide receivers continue to go full-blown DeSean Jackson, but then again I'm far from a D1 athlete. All I know is that it was certainly a bad beat if I've ever seen one, considering Louisville was a 30-point favorite that would have ensured they cover.
  • By and large, the defense did look good on Saturday. EKU was held to just 235 total yards, three points, 6.5 yards per completion and the run support was good in the first half (1.9 YPC). Kei'Trel Clark is continuing to shine bright, hauling in Louisville's first two interceptions on the season, and making an early run at their second-ever Thorpe Award. The only concern I have was that when EKU went up tempo briefly in the second quarter, they were moving the ball fairly easily. With UCF coming to town Friday, that doesn't bode well.
  • Not everything was peachy keen. The defensive line is the bona fide weakness on that side of the ball, and it showed at times. Like with their offensive counterparts, the linemen didn't seem like they were able to be physically imposing like they should. Ashton Gillotte continues to be promising, but YaYa Diaby has been massively disappointing through two games.
  • The starting linebacking corps had a solid bounce back game. Monty Montgomery looked a lot more poised than he did against Ole Miss, and Yasir Abdullah is still Louisville's best pass rush option. Even Marvin Dallas showed flashes, and more on him later.
  • The secondary was good, but not great. Clark we know was the game MVP, Chandler Jones looked a lot better than he did vs. Ole Miss, and Qwynnterrio Cole continues to be a great addition on the back end. Something to note here, is that while Louisville did not play as soft of coverage as they did last weekend, EKU still had way too big of a cushion at times. Alignment is getting better, but it's not completely there yet, and that goes for the entire defense.
  • How about Louisville's special teams? Not only was Marvin Dallas flying around tracking down and smacking kick returners, but what a clutch play to recover a muffed punt that set up Louisville's first score. Plus, great moves from Braden Smith on his long punt return for a touchdown. My condolences to placekicker James Turner for missing his first ever PAT, but at least he didn't miss his second half field goal. Punter Mark Vassett regressed a tad from his game solid showing last week, but still looked good.
  • Turnover margin check: +1 on the year!
  • I'll close with this thought. Like with the Ole Miss game, I came out with more questions than answers. Louisville should have absolutely dominated from start to finish, on both sides of the ball, and that didn't happen. A lot still needs to be worked on and addressed this week in practice, otherwise Friday's game against UCF could get UGLY.

(Photo of Kenderick Duncan via Cindy Rice Shelton)

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