TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Heading down to the Sunshine State to kick off Atlantic Coast Conference play, the Louisville football program held off a second half rally attempt from Florida State, escaping Doak Campbell Stadium with a 31-23 victory.
The Cardinals (3-1, 1-0 ACC) held a 31-7 lead with 1:49 left in the first half, but thanks largely to a change in their offensive approach, the Seminoles (0-4, 0-2 ACC) responded with 16 unanswered points. Florida State had a chance to tie it up on their final drive, but cornerback Kei'Trel Clark secured a game-clinching interception with 48 seconds remaining.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham accounted for 320 total yards and four touchdowns - two each through the air and on the ground - while tight end Marshon Ford and wide receiver Jordan Watkins combined for 11 receptions for 113 yards. Defensively, Louisville finished with 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, led by Yasir Abdullah's 3.5 and 2.0, respectively.
FSU signal caller McKenzie Mitlon was 24-of-39 for 248 yards, and running back Jashaun Corbin had 159 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Despite losing, the Seminoles out-gained the Cardinals 453-395.
Offensively, the Cardinals could not have played a more efficient and methodical first half. Louisville scored on their first five drives of the game - four touchdowns and a field goal - with five of their six drives before halftime going at least 10 plays, and going 8-10 on third down.
Tyler Harrell hauled in a 59-yard bomb on the fourth play of the game, Watkins had a 21-yard catch-and go, Cunningham had a pair of goal-to-go scores, and James Turner drilled a 44-yard field goal.
On the other sideline, Florida State looked mostly disheveled and undisciplined to start the game. They struggled to establish the run and sustain drives, getting past midfield just three times in the first half, and getting out-gained 316-180 heading into the locker room.
However, the pendulum started to swing in FSU's favor just before halftime. Andrew Parchment hauled in a 21-yard touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half, then Jashaun Corbin ran 75 yards to the house on the second play of the second half.
Louisville's efficient and methodical offense from the first half went out the window after halftime, as the Cardinals started to play not to lose, rather than to win. Six of their first seven drives of the second half ended in punts, with four going three-and-out, and the Cardinals getting out-gained 273-79 in the second half.
Fortunately, the Cardinals defense held strong down the stretch. FSU's Ryan Fitzgerald nailed a 45-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game with less than nine minutes remaining, but two of the Seminoles' final four drives ended in failed fourth down conversions, and the final ending with Clark's interception.
Louisville will be back action next weekend, capping off their two-game road trip against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Kickoff against the Demon Deacons is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12:30 p.m. EST on your Regional Sports Network.
(Photo of Braden Smith: Melina Myers - USA TODAY Sports)
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