LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Coming off of their soul-crushing loss to Florida State last weekend, Louisville was able to get back on track against USF, coming out on top with a blowout victory at Cardinal Stadium.
Before we close the book on the game and transition to the matchup at Boston College, I wanted to provide some closing thoughts and observations from the game:
- First of all, I'll admit that this is a game in which we shouldn't overreact to. Even when taking into the account the things that USF does do well, they are still an opponent that Louisville should easily handle on a regular basis. They were a two-touchdown favorite for a reason. That being said, considering how the Cardinals had looked to start the season, this is also a game which we shouldn't completely discount. This served as the perfect opportunity for a get-right game, and Louisville grabbed the bull by the horns (no, I'm not sorry for the pun). This was a chance to build back some confidence, and potentially serve as the first step to getting the season back on track, and the Cardinals took full advantage. Now, Louisville is rolling as they head into their next two games, at Boston College and at Virginia, both of which are very winnable given the state of both those teams.
- Let's start with the offense first. It goes without saying that this was their best performance of the year. I'll admit that I was a little nervous after their first drive out went absolutely nowhere, but they didn't let that phase them at all, responding with four straight scoring drives. You can make a case where this was the first game in which offensive coordinator Lance Taylor's impact was a lot more noticeable. There was a lot more pre-snap motion than we had seen over the first few weeks. Tempo was a lot more present. They cut down on the amount of run plays on clear passing downs. The play calling itself took a step forward in the creativity department, especially with the runs. Not to mention that they only committed two non-garbage time penalties, and neither with false starts.
- Of course, they weren't perfect, and do have some things they still need to clean up moving forward. Fumbles still seem to be a bit of an issue, putting the ball on the dirt twice (though one was recovered). Quarterback Malik Cunningham, despite having arguably his best game as a passer this season, had three *really* bad throws in this game. The first one was what should have been a pick on the opening drive, and then two overthrows within just minutes of each other that both would have been good for touchdowns - a scoring drive that needed a 4th down conversion to keep it alive. They also nearly blew a second quarter opportunity on the one-yard line after a big run by Trevion Cooley. Had the Cardinals been facing a much better defense, the opposition would have done a better job at hopping on these miscues.
- Even with the few bad throws that Cunningham had, it was still most prolific game as a passer for one big reason: he did a great job at spreading the ball out. Of the 11 receivers that hauled in a pass against USF, seven of them caught ball thrown by Cunningham. Not only did the wide receivers get involved in the pass game, but he is starting to actually get the ball to the running backs out of the backfield. This was also a game where Louisville made the right call and let Cunningham be who he is: a true dual threat guy whose best work comes when he get involved in the run game and sets up play action throws. That's what makes him so deadly. He just needs to continue to work on his accuracy a touch.
- Wide receiver is still an area of concern with how thin it is, but they did take a step in the right direction against USF. Ahmari Huggins-Bruce was involved in both down field throws and plays in space close to the line of scrimmage. Tyler Hudson did a better a job of creating separation, as did the room as a whole. Jaelin Carter showed he can be a threat with his spectacular catch. Chris Bell finally made his collegiate debut, and will likely get more snaps as time goes on. I will say that Marshon Ford does need to get more involved in the passing game. He's too good to only have 10 catches through four games.
- This might have been product of Tiyon Evans coming off of a hamstring issue, but I loved seeing the main running back rotation have a relatively equal opportunity. Evans got in on the first drive, the Cooley on the second and Jawhar Jordan on the third. I'm not saying this should be their modus operandi moving forward, but the running back room is too deep for Evans to be the dominant back. In my opinion, even when Jalen Mitchell does come back from whatever injury he has, Cooley should be No. 2 on the depth chart.
- It looks like the offensive line is starting to round back into form. Sure, it's easy to look good against that USF front seven, but they did a great job of opening up holes for the backs and keeping Cunningham upright, allowing only one sack and five TFL's. Whether it was due to a slow start to the season or the fact that he was coming off of an injury suffered against FSU, left tackle Trevor Reid was bumped from his starting spot in favor of Michael Gonzalez. We'll see if this carries into next week.
- Now let's talk about the defense. This was a night-and-day difference from their performance against Florida State in one critical area: energy and effort. Against the Seminoles, there were times when the defense looked like they didn't even want to be there by the way they were play. Against USF, they were flying all over the field and putting in the extra effort to make sure a ballcarrier got down. After they missed 12 tackles against FSU, they only missed five against USF. Like the offense, they do have some things to clean up - such as the long shot in the second quarter that was fortunately dropped, the 4th down offsides in the second quarter that allowed a USF drive to continue, and a couple other USF drops - but not nearly as much as their offensive counterparts.
- I don't want to come away with too many big takeaways from this game considering the opponent, but I was pleasantly surprised with the front seven's showing. Is USF was going to spring an upset, it was going to be because of their run game. Hell, it was how they almost beat Florida. Louisville set the tone early by not only sending pressure, but executing to make sure it lands and provides a meaningful impact on the play - whether that be on the running backs or the quarterback.
- The defensive line was a huge reason for the success Louisville had against the run. YaYa Diaby continues to look like the player we expected him to be coming into this season, and Dezmond Tell had his best game of the season. Not to mention that Louisville used the opportunity to rotate multiple guys in and out of the lineup to get snaps to, and at one point had an all-freshman line with Selah Brown, Tawfiq Thomas and Caleb Banks then. Something to monitor here, though, is the fact the Ashton Gillotte did not play, but was dressed. Let's hope that he isn't sidelined with another nagging injury.
- A much better performance from the linebackers. Yasir Abdullah continues to make game-altering plays (such as his recovered fumble), and MoMo Sanogo is starting to settle in after his rocky start. Not to mention that it seems Louisville has finally accepted that Monty Montgomery isn't as explosive as he was pre-injury, and Dorian Jones made the start in his place (although they did play about equal snap). As a result, Jones took the opportunity and ran with it, leading the team in tackles with six and tallying two TFL's in the process. I'd expect Jones to be the the regular starter in the middle alongside Sanogo, with Montgomery seeing the field in certain situations.
- Quite frankly, this isn't really a game where you can come away with a lot of takeaways regarding the secondary considering that USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon is not that good. Still, Louisville played solid complimentary football by standing up to both the run and the pass. Both Josh Minkins and Chandler Jones made good reads on their respective interceptions, and Kenderick Duncan made up for his awful game against FSU with a much better outing. Overall coverage was good, though definitely can be improved upon considering it seemed like there were still a handful of times that USF receivers were able to generate more separation than what you would want.
- I'll close with this thought: this is the kind of game Louisville absolutely had to have. A beatdown against an inferior opponent isn't going to win a lot of fans back in the interim, but it serves as the first step to getting the season back on track. Win at Boston College, then parlay that momentum into the next game at Virginia, then all of sudden Louisville feels a lot better about the games on the back half of their schedule than they did this time last week.
(Photo of Malik Cunningham: Jared Anderson - State of Louisville/Louisville Report)
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