LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville came through in a massive way on this past Friday night at Cardinal Stadium. Hosting UCF, the Cardinals emerged on the right side of a 42-35 barnburner, capturing victory in dramatic fashion thanks to Jaylin Alderman's game-winning pick six.
Before we close the book on the barnburner that was Louisville-UCF, and transition into week four's ACC opener at Florida State, I wanted to provide some closing thoughts and observations from the game:
- I'll be the first to admit that I did not think Louisville was going to win this game. I even picked them to lose by double digits. While a lot of that was due to the execution and coaching, I also factored in the overall energy and effort I had seen over the first two games. Against Ole Miss and EKU, neither seemed to really be there on a consistent basis. But against the Knights, you could not only see how much more effort both sides of the ball was giving, but the sideline wasn't lifeless, and was helping feed into the effort on the field. The crowd, while smaller than you would like, also did a tremendous job.
- I've been very critical of the coaching through the first part of the season, but you really have to commend their game plan against UCF - on both offense and defense. The running game was not just outside stretch runs every time, it incorporated more inside zone, and it got quarterback Malik Cunningham involved in situations and play calls that actually made sense. Not to mention that the run/pass play calling was dead even, and that the short passing game was utilized more.
- Sure, the defense did give up 35 points. But the game plan from defensive coordinator Bryan Brown was masterful. The defense used a lot more nickel and dime looks to contain the high-flying passing attack, and while not perfect, it was damn close. UCF was limited to 2-of-10 on 3rd down, ran just 64 plays after averages 85 against Boise State and Bethune-Cookman, and quarterback Dillon Gabriel had a sub-200 yard game for the first time in his career.
- Now let's talk about the actual players. I know that Cunningham has made a concerted effort to be more of a pocket passer and concentrate on going through his reads and progressions, but he was spectacular with the ball in his hands. He took good angles, made good cuts, and looked the most electric as a ball carrrier that I can recall. Oh, and he was able to limit some of the offline throws that he had a lot of in the first two games.
- Marshon Ford is playing like a man who wants to be named First Team All-ACC. His eight receptions for 100 yards were not only career highs, but now he's already halfway to matching his career-high in season yardage (309 in 2020).
- The receiver corps still has some kinks to work out, but showed major improvement against the Knights. Jordan Watkins is finally starting to truly build a rapport with Cunningham, as is Justin Marshall. Tyler Harrell finally caught his first pass of the season, but he will most certainly need to get more involved in the passing game soon.
- Part of the reason I thought Louisville had no shot against UCF was because of how bad the offensive line had been up to that point. Couple the fact that the Knights had the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, and it had potential disaster written all over it. But give them some major credit. While not perfect, they did much better at giving Cunningham some time to throw and Jalen Mitchell lanes to run through. UCF was allowing just 20 rushing yards per game prior to the matchup, and Louisville put up 191. Pretty impressive.
- Now let's look at the defense. While the line is still very much the weak spot on that side of the ball, defensive line coach Mark Ivey is starting to figure out the rotations up front, and it's giving Louisville a much better chance to generate pressure. YaYa Diaby finally had a solid game and Ashton Gillotte continues to show what his long term potential can be. But now that the staff is hammering out a way to keep them all fresh for an entire game, now they just have to execute when it comes to getting in the backfield.
- As always, good job by the linebacking corps. Yasir Abdullah continues to demonstrate why he is the bets pass rusher on the team, and even CJ Avery tallied a sack as well. Fagot might have largely been a mismatch due to the amount of speed that UCF has with their receivers, but the staff was still able to utilize his skills by putting him in the right places. In fact, defensive alignment was the best it had been all season, both with play calling and player execution.
- Sure, there were times where the secondary got beat. But there were a few throws Gabriel made that were borderline unstoppable, so the secondary gets a but of a pass. As mentioned before, the secondary did a much better job at not only lining up where they should, but open field tackling. Kei'Trel Clark and Greedy Vance played good games, and Chandler Jones was able to rebound after looking fairly lost the first two games. Plus, major credit to Qwynnterrio Cole on his monstrous 3rd down PBU that was a major momentum shift.
- Holy %^*#, Jaylin Alderman. Talk about making an impact in limited playing time.
- Turnover margin check: +1 on the year!
- I'll close with this thought. This was undoubtedly one of the bigger games in the Scott Satterfield era, but not for the best reason. Fortunately, Louisville was able to not only win against a high major opponent, but look good doing it. It has potential to completely change the direction and outlook of the season, and Louisville needs to capitalize on this momentum heading down to Tallahassee.
(Photo of Louisville Players: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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