Louisville football was hoping to take a step in the right direction after a losing season in 2021.
The Cardinals were picked by the ACC media in July to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division, ahead of only Florida State, Boston College and Syracuse.
Three weeks into the season, the Cardinals have lost to two of those teams. They suffered a 31-7 season-opening loss to the Orange and then fell to the Seminoles 35-31 in their home opener on Friday night. A road trip against Boston College is coming up in two weeks, which has become a must-contest if U of L (1-2, 0-2 ACC) wants to stand any chance of salvaging their season with a grueling back half of the season. season still ahead.
Louisville entered the Week 3 contest with a confidence boost from its 20-14 road win over the University of Central Florida that seemed to prove it could win close games after all. For a moment on Friday, it looked like the Cardinals were going to repeat the feat, but the same problems that plagued them against Syracuse appeared once again: too many penalties and missed opportunities.
3 takeaway:Louisville football squanders huge opportunity against Jordan Travis-less FSU
The Cardinals committed 11 penalties for 81 yards on Friday. Going into Week 3, only 19 teams in the country had more than Louisville’s 19, which includes Syracuse and UCF, who rank at 21. U of L now has 30 and Utah State’s 28 are the biggest ahead of this weekend. Cardinals coach Scott Satterfield noted that those missteps appeared on all sides of the ball, including special teams.
“We haven’t had any (on special teams) the first two games and we had two tonight,” he said. “We had two holding penalties on a punt return and one more. So it was really all three phases that contributed to that and it wasn’t just one side of the ball with the penalties but, again, they hurt you a lot.”
As far as Louisville’s defense was concerned, the Cardinals were unable to capitalize on Seminoles’ backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker’s handling with FSU’s starting quarterback Jordan Travis out of the game before halftime. It started off pretty well with Rodemaker getting sacked three times and eliminated once in his early series.
Then the tides turned in the second half.
Rodemaker calmed down and threw the game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Wilson with 7:54 remaining in the game.
“I think they changed their scheme and executed what we didn’t do,” Cardinals linebacker Momo Sanogo said. “They got some explosive plays on us in the passing game and in the running game. Kudos to (FSU coach Mike) Norvell. He did a good job of changing him up, giving a different look than he gave us the entire first half. . He found success and we didn’t. We have to go back and fix that and finish games.”
Offensively, Louisville seemed to have found a rhythm with quarterback Malik Cunningham producing 370 total yards and three touchdowns, two of which came on runs of 8 and 18 yards. They saw running backs Trevion Cooley, who scored twice, and Jawhar Jordan, who started in place of the injured Tiyon Evans and Jalen Mitchell, advance. Jordan and Cooley combined for 125 rushing yards, with Cooley scoring two TDs (one receiving, one rushing) and making four catches on four targets for 36 yards.
But when the game was on the line in the final minutes, the offense sizzled, twice. Cunningham’s interception as he tried to throw the ball out of bounds with 37 seconds left sealed the deal.
“I think Malik was trying to hit (Ahmari) Huggins-Bruce on the bench,” Satterfield said. “It was open, but the ball went out a little bit and the defensive back (Kevin Knowles) made the interception there at the end. It is very painful and disappointing not being able to win this game. We know Florida State is a good football team, but we were there and we went toe-to-toe with them and controlled the entire game late.”
Plus:Why a backup quarterback setting fire to Louisville’s football D doesn’t bode well against tougher foes
Injuries played a role in the loss and could affect the next few weeks. After being a question mark all week, Mitchell (lower leg) was finally ruled out, while Evans (unspecified) was a decision on game day. Before the end of the first quarter, the Cardinals were also without offensive lineman Trevor Reid (unspecified) and wide receiver Dee Wiggins (foot). His health statuses were not known immediately after the game.
“Tyler Hudson was in and out,” Satterfield said. “There were a lot of moving parts when you think about it. It was a physical game. They (the state of Florida) also had some guys that were out.”
Sure, the Seminoles lost their starting quarterback and star defensive lineman, Jared Verse, but they found ways to adjust. Louisville did not.
Video highlights from the first home game:Louisville drops out of ACC matchup with Florida state football
The most unfortunate part of Louisville losing its first two conference games is that Florida State and Syracuse were believed to be two of the most likely games to win on the schedule.
It won’t get any easier anytime soon.
Louisville will have a bye from league play against South Florida on Sept. 24. The Cardinals must make the necessary adjustments and regain confidence before a road game with Boston College. The Eagles have an experienced quarterback in Phil Jurkovec and a top-tier but smaller receiver in Zay Flowers (5-10, 172 pounds), who already has 14 receptions for 196 yards and two TDs.
After BC, the next four weeks include a road game against Virginia, a bye week, and home games against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Then there’s the end-of-season challenge that includes going to Memorial Stadium to face Clemson on November 12 before returning home to take on NC State to wrap up the ACC action. Governor’s Cup play at No. 9 Kentucky ends the season.
There should be urgency now at 1-2.
“They are all single-game seasons. You have to do the best you can with whatever you’re preparing to play,” Satterfield said. “Our focus will be on South Florida on Sunday. … You can’t dwell on the past, win or lose. You learn from it, but you can’t stop at it. Then you come back and really focus on what you have to improve. And, it’s everyone. Every player, every coach, everyone has to find something to improve on. … We have to be smarter in what we are doing.”
Giving an example:How Lance Taylor carries Native American heritage with him as Louisville’s new football OC
Contact Louisville football, women’s basketball and baseball writer Alexis Cubit at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.