Louisville Defeats EKU in Home Opener

The Cardinals overcame another slow start to secure their first win of the 2021 season.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville might have secured their first win of the 2021 season, but it didn't come in the prettiest of fashions.

Facing Eastern Kentucky in their first home game of the year, the Cardinals were able to overcome another sluggish start, doing enough down the stretch to come away with a 30-3 victory Saturday at Cardinal Stadium. Louisville extends their win streak vs. FCS opponents to 19 in a row, and move to 68-32-3 in home openers.

Quarterback Malik Cunningham was 15-of-23 passing with 306 total yards and three touchdowns, and running back Jalen Mitchel carried the ball 18 times for 90 yards. The duo were the main cogs in an offense which slogged for most of the night, as Louisville only put up 347 total yards of offense.

Defensively, the Cardinals were a field goal away from pitching a shutout. EKU mustered just 235 total yards, while averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per completion. Cornerback Kei'Trel Clark shined, hauling in two interceptions and logging a pair of tackle for losses.

Like in their season opener against Ole Miss the week prior, the Louisville offense was stagnant out of the gates. The offensive line struggled in pass protection in the first half, the running game had a hard time getting established, and their first five drives of the game didn't go farther than 35 yards.

In fact, their first two scores of the game were mostly attributed to special teams. A muffed punt by EKU outside the red zone led to a 10-yard first quarter rushing score from Cunningham, then Braden Smith took a second quarter punt 49 yards to the house.

After EKU broke the shutout with a 39-yard field goal, Louisville's offense began to show signs of life on the final drive of the half. They led a methodical 11-play, 72-yard drive that ended with another rushing score from Cunningham, this time from three yards out after a converted fourth down. Despite out-gaining EKU by just 73 yards in the first half, they took a 20-3 led into the locker room.

Louisville carried some of that momentum into the third quarter, scoring on two of their three drives of the period. Justin Marshall scored on a 30-yard screen pass, and James Turner made up for his missed PAT from the first half with a 27-yard field goal.

The Cardinals had a chance to cover the 30-point spread in the fourth quarter, but a massive freshman mistake cost them. Cunningham found Ahmari Huggins-Bruce for what would have been a 95-yard catch-and-run touchdown, one yard longer than the school record for longest reception, but the ball was dropped at the goal line in DeSean Jackson fashion and called a touchback.

Next up, Louisville will be back in action next weekend for a primetime matchup against UCF at Cardinal Stadium. Kickoff against the Knights is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.

(Photo of Braden Smith: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)

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