LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Squaring off with Virginia Tech for the first time since joining the ACC in 2014, Louisville nearly made enough plays to string together their first winning streak of the season, but fell just short as the Hokies proceeded to hand the Cards a 42-35 defeat on Halloween at Cardinal Stadium.
Louisville (2-5, 1-5) out-gained Virginia Tech 548-466, but the Hokies did what they did best and set the tone early with their running game. Tech (4-2, 4-2) rushed for 283 yards and five scores, included 147 yards and a touchdown from running back Khalil Herbert, who was third in the nation in rushing yards & first in all-purpose yards per game heading into the contest.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham threw for a career-high 350 yards on 23 of his 35 passing attempts as well as three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. Running back Javian Hawkins had a stellar day all-around with 129 yards on the ground, 42 yards through the air and a touchdown each way.
Facing a Hokies squad that averages the fourth-most rushing yards per game and has the No. 1 all-purpose yardage back in the nation, the Cards already had a lot on their plate to deal with. These matters were made even worse when the pre-game availability report was released.
Just three hours before kickoff, it was announced that nine players would be unavailable for the game. Of those nine, four were regular starters and six were on the defensive line.
Out of the gates, the Hokies took advantage of this shortage. Instead of Herbert, it would be quarterback Hendon Hooker rushing for a trio of rushing scores to give Virginia Tech an early three score lead. Hooker finished the game with 68 rushing yards on 19 attempts, and was a perfect 10-10 with 183 yards through the air.
On the other side, Louisville's offense was marred by inopportune penalties, predictable play calling and shoddy offensive line play to start the game. In the first quarter, the Cards averaged just 2.5 yards per play and even had -11 rushing yards.
In the second quarter, they rallied back and found a way to keep the game close heading into the half. Cunningham found tight end Marshon Ford for the Cards' first points of the day and running back Javian Hawkins exploded for a 90-yard rushing touchdown on the final play of the half.
Even with the momentum swing and the defense playing the best they could given the situation, Virginia Tech had little issue scoring once they reconvened after halftime. The Hokies scored on their first four second half drives: a 1-yard rushing TD from wide receiver Tre Turner, a pair of field goals from Brian Johnson, then a 24-yard rushing TD from Herbert.
Louisville's offense gave the Cards a chance down the stretch in the fourth quarter, as Cunningham connected with wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick for an 82-yard strike in between Johnson's field goals and running back Maurice Burkley took it in from 13 yards out to make it one score game prior to Herbert's score.
Even after Herbert's score to go back down two possessions, Louisville wasn't going down without a fight. Scrambling to avoid tacklers, Cunningham found Hawkins through the air for a 16-yard passing touchdown to pull back within one with a minute left in the game. Unfortunately, the Cards would not recover the ensuing onside kick.
Louisville will be back in action next weekend, taking on the Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Va. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 7 at 8:00 p.m.
(Photo of Tutu Atwell: Atlantic Coast Conference)
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