LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville football notched their first win of the 2021 season, overcoming another slow start to take down Eastern Kentucky, 30-3, in their home opener.
Here's what head coach Scott Satterfield, quarterback Malik Cunningham, running back Jalen Mitchell, wide receiver Josh Johnson and cornerback Kei'Trel Clark had to say following the win:
Head Coach Scott Satterfield
"Man it's good to get a win, there's no question about that. We all like winning. I'm proud of our guys with the way they came back off a tough loss on Monday night. And on a short week, to be able to come back out. They started getting fresh again toward Thursday and then Friday had a good day of practice. And I thought they came out and played hard tonight. Defensively, we really had a good night. Kei'Trel Clark, in particular, I thought he played awesome out there on the edge. He had some deflections and some interceptions and some great tackles coming off those little bubble spot screens they were trying to run. Overall, I just thought our defense played well. We gave up the three points on the one play when they had third down and we get the PI (pass interference) call, and that put them in field goal range, but that's pretty much it, what they did all night. So I'm proud of that. Offensively, we did some things that were good tonight and also some things that were just average. We got to get a lot better as we move forward. But, we won the turnover margin, which was nice. Overall, I'm just proud of the guys coming back to get the win and we know we got to do it again this week. It's a short week, we'll get back in here tomorrow and start working on Central Florida."
(What were your thoughts on the offense?)
"I thought Malik came out and played solid. He sat in the pocket and that's what we wanted him to do this game, to go through his reads and make his throws. I thought he looked a lot better at that. I think the running game, it struggled sometimes, but I did think we hit some good runs in there. I thought (Jalen) Mitchell ran hard again. I thought he did Monday night, as well. He's a big back, he's got good vision. He had a nice catch and went down the sideline, so you know he's very solid there. I thought (Trevion) Cooley got a few more touches tonight and did some really good things. We played a lot of guys up front and I think that's a positive, and we needed to because we had a couple of guys that got dinged, so we subbed them in. The positive is those guys still played at a high level out there. I thought they did some good things. They protected well. It's good to see some of the receivers make some plays. Ahmari (Huggin-Bruce), that play was unfortunate. He did the hard part, the heavy lifting was outrunning the entire defense and the easy part, anybody in this room could just carry the ball across the line, but that's unfortunate for him. But, he still had a great night. He's a very good playmaker with the ball in his hands. He's got exceptional speed and quickness. It's just a shame he didn't get a touchdown on that particular play. Overall, we know we want to get better offensively and we'll continue to work on it."
(How would you assess the offensive line play?)
"We want to get better. We've got high expectations for them. II think tonight it was solid, we protected well. They brought a lot of pressure tonight and our guys did a pretty good job of picking all of that up. In the run game there were several times tonight they did a really good job. And then there was a couple of times when they did bring pressure and the offensive line has got to out it and work toward the pressure and we didn't do that, we'd leave one guy off the edge which they got to see that and pick that up. Those are the kind of things, if you don't get fixed then teams are going to do it. So, we got to shore that up. (Michael) Gonzalez is a true freshman and he was out there one time that happened. You know it's just learning for him, but it's not just him because it was the left side, as well. Those are the things we got to get better at."
(On the punt return for the touchdown, it was a short punt and a low one, do you have any trepidation about him fielding that in those circumstances?)
"Working on their punt team this week was different. They do some rugby, and they also do the traditional punt, so we worked on fielding those types of punts this week. What they are trying to do is let the ball hit the ground so it'll roll another 25 yards. I thought Braden Smith did an excellent job this evening fielding those punts, because some of those punts could have gone 15-20 more yards and particularly on that one. Sometimes they think it's going to roll out, so it hit the ground once or twice and then they relaxed and he was right there to catch it and that's when he scored. I have a lot of confidence in Braden. He is a smooth operator back there. He has a lot of poise when it comes to fielding those punts. That's not easy to do, he just has a good knack for it, and I like the way he did that tonight."
(In the run game, what do you think you need to do to be able to move the ball on first and second down and even third and short, a little more consistently?)
"It's just getting the blocks. It's execution, really. They were doing a lot of movement tonight, extending the front, moving the backers down, moving the line over. Things happen fast and we work on those things, but we have to get better at it. The first short yardage that we didn't get, the backside backer played over the top, our line didn't work up to that backer. We just have to get better at it. We just have to be more smooth in our execution, that's the bottom line."
(On having more big plays)
"One of the things we came out of the game against Ole Miss was we needed to take more deep shots. Even though they were dropping eight most of the night and were trying to keep everything in front, but we still have to take some shots down the sideline. We took one and we threw a pick, maybe that's why we didn't take many more. Tonight, coming into the game, we felt how they were playing us coverage wise enabled us to take more shots. It depends on how the defense is playing it, but we certainly want to take more chances with some of the balls down the field. We didn't hit on all of them, but we hit on a few."
(On Malik Cunningham's decision making)
"The first or second drive he got out and hit Braden Smith on a nice first down. I thought that was good, but we wanted to keep his eyes up. Once we go back and see the tape, we'll be able to see how he did, but I thought that was pretty good on that play and he did it a couple more times throughout the game. Our receivers have to work to get open as well and work in those windows. He can put so much pressure on defenses with his legs, and they're going to come up and you're going to have some opportunities with that. We want to get better when he is outside of the pocket making big plays down the field."
(This offense has been a work in progress, but what's the next step before a pretty big game for you guys next week against UCF?)
"We want to continue to take care of the ball. I thought that was big tonight. Offensively, we have to do much better on third down. We were not good on third down tonight at all. I think that's one thing we certainly have to get better at because we're going to have to sustain drives. One thing we know about Central Florida is they're going to go fast. 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."
Quarterback Malik Cunningham
(On what he saw from the offense today.)
"I thought that we started off slow again. The first drive of the game we came out focused, the next two or three drives, we struggled to finish. We have to start fast; we know that. We have a big opponent coming up next week. We have to start fast against UCF because if not we could get behind because their offense moves fast. We started a little slow tonight, but we have to fix it and pick it up in practice this week."
(How do you motivate younger guys like Huggins-Bruce that make mistakes?)
"He is an amazing young guy who has a lot of potential, a lot of talent, but mistakes like that come with the discipline part of the game. It is good that it happened against EKU and not next week. But, we have to stay on all of our young receivers and keep them focused and motivated. These are 17- or 18-year-old guys that are coming in, they might get down on themselves because of mistakes, but it is our responsibility as leaders to stay on them and keep those guys motivated because those guys are helpful to the team."
(On sluggish starts by offense)
"We got to come out faster, we have been practicing fast, practicing hard, but some of that stuff takes a toll on your body. 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. The sky is the limit for this team, once we get rolling it is pretty scary what we can accomplish."'
(On what he has seen from his younger receivers so far.)
"Like I said in the beginning of the year, a lot of those guys did not get to play last year. Once you get out there it is a lot different from practice, it is a different game speed. They have to have a little bit more game savviness to them, to be able to cut loose and play ball because at the end of the day you are out there playing, adjusting, you are not only running the route on the sheets. I think that they will build up their confidence and pick this thing up."
(On the criticism following Ole Miss and the team's response.)
"A win is a win. It is a good win, but we are not satisfied with it. We were not proud about how we started off slow. UCF is going to come in with some speed, a lot of up tempo. This week in practice we have to move fast and get a good defensive look and we also got to be able to move the ball against those guys and they got some good guys on defense."
(On Josh Johnson)
"That is my guy right there. He has so much experience and he knows the game of football. He has a lot of savviness to him. That is a receiver that you can rely on, that a coach can rely on, and that I can rely on as a quarterback. It's good to have a couple of guys in that receiver room who's been here, but it was great to finally get to see him do it, it really showed tonight."
(On his pocket presence tonight)
"I would say that it was a lot better. There was a lot less pressure in the pocket, but I made sure that I was not going to be a tackling dummy back there and let the defense hit me. I think that our offensive line stood their ground a lot better tonight, and moving forward I trust that they will keep doing it as I stand back there, but if not my natural instincts are to take off and create where I can."
Running Back Jalen Mitchell
(On how the game was different than the first.)
"We had a quick turnaround, we came out, we played hard, and we finished just like we did Monday night. But, at the same time, we still had a lot of mistakes. Just looking to clean that up, looking forward to UCF."
(On the physicality.)
"We were a little bit more physical, and we tried to emphasize that throughout the week. Then again, we still came out not as physical as we hoped, but we finished off as physical as we prepared."
(On starting quicker.)
"I think we just need to focus on the details that we harp on throughout the week. We preach to play fast and play physical every single day, but it just comes to a point where we have to mentally lock in and make that execution."
(On the rushing attack for Louisville.)
"I think we are pretty well off. We will get better each week as we keep going and getting better with the details. I love the rushing attack, I love my o-linemen, I love my quarterback, and I love my team, so I think we just keep getting better and better each week."
Wide Receiver Josh Johnson
(On how it feels to be back on the field.)
"It really has been a relief, all the hard work in the training room trying to get back. Putting my trust in God as I know I can play at a high caliber level."
(On the receivers stepping into bigger roles.)
"It feels good, the goal is to keep on the path they (TuTu Atwell, Dez Fitzpatrick, etc.) set. I told them in camp, there's a lot of guys who have been patiently waiting their turn to show they have talent, and we have plenty of people who can make plays."
(As far as Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, he had the unfortunate touchback on the long catch. Did you guys say anything to him or what was the conversation to him?)
"This kind of stuff coach Brewer goes over in the meetings. Coach Brewer is a guru. Whenever he says something, just miraculously it happens. Ahmari just needs to keep his head up from it, learn from it and move on to the next play. Of course, he showed off his speed on that play."
(How do you feel about this win after the Ole Miss loss last week?)
"It's reassuring to get a win on the board like this. Malik and I feel the same way, it's not something we should be proud of. 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. We just have to hunker down and get to it."
(What was your focus this offseason and now in the season?)
"My focus was really just trusting myself, trusting knowing that all the work I put in. After the surgery, making sure that I felt comfortable progressing. Making sure I felt comfortable on the field. Trusting my quickness, my instincts during camp. Coach Brewer would always tell me that he's watching me and not to overdo it. I have been here awhile, I know the offense, so it's not a thing where I need the reps and to learn the playbook to know what's going on around here. I've just been patiently waiting."
Cornerback Kei'Trel Clark
(What was it like to get those two interceptions today?)
"To be honest, that was manifestation from God. Last night my close friend and I had a conversation and we talked about what I think my stats are going to be in the game, just to put it in the air. And my stats last night that I predicted for myself was two interceptions and three tackles. It's so crazy how powerful manifestation is when you truly believe in something. The excitement ran through me because it was just surreal. All the work that I've put in this offseason, as far as working on my hands because I know I dropped a lot of interceptions and not capitalizing on big plays. Now, every time the ball comes my way, I'm going to do my best to make those plays."
(Against Ole Miss, they largely avoided you. Were you surprised to get so many opportunities tonight to make plays like that?)
"To be honest, yes. After the first interception, I thought they would stop coming my way. But, he tried his luck, and got blessed."
(On how they played overall tonight.)
"I think we played very physical tonight. I think we executed way better than we did in the first game. And there's some things that we must carry over to next week, and not having one man out of position on the play. So tonight, I feel like we truly were confident when we came out and played well. Still, those three points that they put up on the board were still too much."
(What was the secondary's focus tonight and what did you guys want to accomplish?)
"We wanted to make sure that we stayed on top and eliminated all the big plays. Anything over 15 yards or 20 yards is too much. That's a big play. We need to keep everything underneath and not allow them to really flip the field that much, then the game is going to be in our favor."
(How often do you predict correctly that you're going to have interceptions and what was your prediction last week?)
"Last week, I predicted three PBU's and an interception. I didn't get that. I only had one PBU and six tackles. I did predict six tackles and I did get six tackles. So not always."
(How much was tackling a focus in the offseason?)
"I've been hearing a lot about my weight, and how I'm not big and all this extra stuff. So, I'm going to just make it a point, that it doesn't matter if I'm going against a 225-pound running back. I'm going to show you that doesn't matter when you're going against me. I'm going to show you that I have that edge."
(Photo of Scott Satterfield: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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