Three takeaways from Louisville’s harder-than-expected 24-14 win over visiting Duke on Friday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
1. A flat Friday performance for the Cardinals
Two weeks from that wild oh-so-close loss at now No. 3 Clemson, and a week after an off date, the No. 7 Cardinals were just a little off their game from start to finish.
Averaging 58 points per game, they scored just 10 points the first half. In the third quarter, Jaire Alexander’s 90-yard punt return for a touchdown was erased by an illegal block penalty. As the Cards appeared to be headed for a score later in the third quarter, Brandon Radcliff fumbled away the football at Duke’s five-yard line.
U of L’s Evan O’Hara missed field goals of 42 and 46 yards. Duke was called for roughing the kicker on the latter, however. Two plays after that call, Lamar Jackson went two yards for the TD with 1:32 left that sealed the Louisville win.
Remember, Louisville was a 34-point favorite over the Blue Devils. Had Jeremy Smith not tiptoed down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown run -- three plays after the officials ruled that tight end Cole Hikutini’s progress had been stopped before he lost the ball on a fumble -- the Cards could have been very easily upset.
“I am proud of our team sticking together, working hard and grinding out a win,” said U of L coach Bobby Petrino afterward. “Sometimes you just have to grind it out.”
2. David Cutcliffe knows how to coach
That isn’t exactly secret. The former Tennessee offensive coordinator and Ole Miss head coach is regarded as one of the better tacticians in the game. He has built a successful football program at Duke, a school that has had very little success in football over the years.
Friday night, Cutcliffe executed a game plan that kept the ball away from Louisville’s dynamic offense.
Through three quarters, Louisville had run 48 plays, Duke 42. But Duke’s time of possession was 27:46 to just 17:14 for Bobby Petrino’s team.
Down 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Cutcliffe called a wonderful 15-play, 75-yard drive capped when quarterback Daniel Jones hit an open Johnathan Lloyd in the left corner of an end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. That cut U of L’s lead to 17-14.
“You have top take your hat off to Duke and their gameplan,” said Petrino, who admitted the limited possessions changed the way he called the game. “We probably didn’t take as many shots down the field.”
3. Louisville’s high-powered offense more pop-gun in first half
The Cardinals started strong, taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards in 10 plays with Jackson finding Jaylen Smith for a five-yard score. After that, however, the home team went punt, field goal, punt, punt. It was not what U of L fans had been accustomed to seeing.
Leading the nation in total offense at 659.2 yards per game, Louisville gained just 212 yards in the first half but scored just 10 points. Jackson had runs of 17, 12 and 10 yards but the Cards had a difficult time keeping a consistent drive going.
Just before the end of the first quarter, Louisville had a first-and-goal at the Duke six-yard line. Jackson rushed for two yards on first down, but the quarterback was dropped for a yard loss on second down. On third down, Jackson’s pass for Traveon Samuel at the goal line fell incomplete. Evan O’Hara had to come on kick a 22-yard field for a 10-7 Louisville lead with 14:51 left in the first half.
Louisville football 2016