LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In retrospect, Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield will take the position his program is in. The Cardinals have now won three games in a row, including their ACC opener down at Florida State on Saturday, with their lone loss coming against an Ole Miss team that is now ranked just outside the top ten.
But in reality, while Louisville has a winning record and positive momentum, they have yet to establish any sort of consistency or sustained continuity - especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Against both the Rebels and Colonels, they were never able to truly establish any sort of dominance thanks to a lack of visible energy, and execution that was slow to develop. It was enough to grab a win against EKU, but not the case for the high-flying Ole Miss.
In week three against UCF, Louisville had a much more concerted effort in both departments, resulting in a thrilling victory. In the first half of their game against the Seminoles, it looked like the Cardinals were capitalizing on all that positive momentum.
But then, all of that seemed to go out the window just before halftime. Louisville's efficient and methodical offense completely disappeared, and the defense gave up a handful of chunk plays to keep FSU in the game. Once holding a 24-point lead, Louisville held off the Noles just long enough to escape Doak Campbell Stadium with a 31-23 win.
"We just didn't get any flow," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "There were a lot of three-and-outs, or four or five plays, then you're off the field. We want to get in that flow, and now you can go mix it up with the pass, with a run. We just never got in that good rhythm in the second half, for many reasons."
As Satterfield mentioned, there were a variety of factors that created a perfect storm for an FSU comeback attempt. Head coach Mike Norvell and the rest of the Noles staff made necessary adjustments, and plays for Louisville were not hitting because of individual players not executing, or untimely penalties.
In the first half, Louisville out-gained Florida State 316-180, was 8-10 on third down, and had 19 first downs. After halftime, the script flipped. FSU out-gained Louisville 273-79, the Cardinals went just 1-8 on third down and had just two first downs.
Two separate second half chunk plays from quarterback Malik Cunningham, which combined for 108 yards and touchdown, were called back on holding penalties. For the game, Louisville committed seven penalties for 81 yards.
"In the second half, we were making mistakes that really set ourselves back, running back Maurice Burkley said. "We really weren't executing as much, or when we did execute, them there was a penalty or some type of setback. It was just on us, in terms of what we were doing."
But even by their own admission, they let their foot off the gas. Once they took a 31-7 lead in the closing minutes of the first half, the players started to coast towards the finish line, and it nearly cost them the game.
"I think we relaxed a little bit as offense," quarterback Malik Cunningham said. "We weren't executing up front - me as well - and skill players laid back a little bit, and thought the game was over."
Cunningham says that part of the stagnation on offense was due to losing wide receiver Braden Smith in the first half, but also that it was not something they should dwell on. Despite openly admitting to easing up after getting up big, he did add that he did like their fight down the stretch.
"This team is never gonna stop fighting, and that's what I like about this team," he said. "There's no pointing fingers, we're in this thing together, down to the last second. There's so much fight in this team."
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
(Photo of Justin Marshall: Melina Myers - USA TODAY Sports)
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