LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After getting routed by Ole Miss in their season opener last weekend, Louisville didn't have to wait much longer to find the win column. Taking the field of Cardinal Stadium for the first time this season, they were able to come out on the right side of a blowout this time around, downing in-state FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky, 30-3, on Saturday.
The agony of defeat might have thwarted, but there is still very much a lingering bitter taste in the mouths of the Cardinals. At least on the offensive side of things.
Defensively, Louisville looked markedly better than they did against the Rebels in Atlanta. They nearly pitched a shutout against the Colonels, surrendering only a field goal, holding them to just 235 total yards, and creating three takeaways.
Offensively, however, some of the red flags from the season opener reared their ugly head. Louisville once again got off to an extremely slow start, as the offensive line struggled to maintain a clean pocket for quarterback Malik Cunningham, and the rushing attack could not get established. This resulted in four of their first five drives ending in punts.
"Offensively, we did some things that were good tonight and also some things that were just average," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "We got to get a lot better as we move forward."
Louisville did take a 20-3 lead into the half, but most of the points can be attributed to special teams. A muffed EKU punt in the first quarter led to a rushing score from Cunningham (albeit on a busted read option), and Braden Smith took a second quarter punt 49 yards to the end zone.
They did have a methodical drive to end the half with an offensive touchdown and head into the locker room with some momentum, but even that didn't completely materialize. The ground game started to come together and the blocking did improve, but Louisville simply couldn't execute.
After the break, Louisville went 0-5 on third downs (4-14 for game) converted just seven first downs (11 in first half), and generated just one more yard of total offense compared to the first half. They only scored 10 second half points, failing to cover the 30-point closing line spread.
"We got to come out faster, we have been practicing fast, practicing hard, but some of that stuff takes a toll on your body," Cunningham said. "We have to step it up and move on from these slow starts. We cannot expect to start slow and pick it up in the second half like we have the last two games."
By the time the clock hit double zeros, Louisville had generated 347 total yards of offense- eight yards less than against Ole Miss. Just last weekend, against this same EKU defense, Western Carolina was able to put up 501 yards in a 31-28 loss at home.
"It's not something we should be proud of," wide receiver Josh Johnson said, who finished with a pair of catches for 41 yards.. "I felt we could've played better, executed better, and going into the rest of the season there are a lot of things we need to tune up, to get to where we want and need to be because there is a lot of potential on this team."
The Louisville offense will have to get right in a hurry, because they have yet another test on the horizon. UCF, who is essentially the AAC equivalent of Ole Miss, will be marching into Cardinal Stadium next Friday. If Louisville has any chance to combat another high flying spread offense, the offense will have to be much more focused and efficient.
"One thing we know about Central Florida is they're going to go fast," Satterfield said. "Offensively, one of the best things we can do is keep their offense off the field so if we can keep drives sustained, that's going to help us, but third downs have to get a lot better. That's obviously something we have to really focus on this week so we can keep drives moving."
Kickoff against UCF is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. EST.
(Photo of Malik Cunningham, Jordan Watkins via Cindy Rice Shelton)
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