Louisville (2-1) relied, once again, on backup quarterback Malik Cunningham — as well as running back Dae Williams — to a closer than expected 20-17 win over Western Kentucky (0-3).
Overcoming a shaky start on offense in the first half, Louisville relied on their running game to power their way to a win. Louisville came close to losing their first home game against a Group of Five school since 2015, but two touchdowns from Dae Williams was the difference in this one.
Puma Pass started the game at quarterback for Louisville, but was benched at the start of the second quarter. Puma went 0-for-3 with an interception before giving up the reins to Malik Cunningham again.
Like Louisville, WKU also saw a change at quarterback early. With incumbent starter Drew Eckels out with an injury, backup Steven Duncan started the game. He finished 3-for-5 for 20 yards with an interception to C.J. Avery, Louisville’s first pick of the season.
However, WKU switched to Davis Shanley later on and saw some success earlier than Louisville would. The Hilltoppers scored on a pair of touchdowns from Shanley, first coming on a nine-yard pass to Kyle Fourtenbary. Shanley later scored on a nine-yard option keeper to the left pylon, giving them a 14-0 lead that kept Louisville at bay for most of the game.
Despite Cunningham coming into the game at quarterback, Louisville did not see the same success that they had last week against Indiana State. The Cards failed to score almost the entire first half until their last drive, parlaying a 12-play, 81-yard drive into a field goal from Blanton Creque.
The late first half drive was what sparked the Cards rally in the second half. Louisville forced WKU to punt on their first drive in the third quarter. Creque then got another field goal on Louisville’s following drive, cutting the lead to 14-6.
WKU got close to scoring another touchdown on the next drive, but Louisville continued to pile on momentum for their defense. They stopped Shanley for a four yard loss, then a ten-yard sack from G.G. Robinson forced a field goal attempt that was blocked and returned to the WKU 31-yard line.
Louisville later scored on a one-yard touchdown run from Dae Williams on fourth-and-goal, closing the lead to 14-13. WKU answered with a field goal to push it up to 17-13, but the Cards followed that drive with an 11-yard touchdown run from Dae Williams again. The second touchdown by Williams gave Louisville its first lead of the night.
That said, WKU wouldn’t quite go away. They sustained a drive enough to get inside the Louisville 40, but a sack from Jarrett Jackson pushed WKU into a fourth-and-long that they did not convert. Louisville drove the clock down to 16 seconds left in the final quarter, but allowed a 15-yard penalty on WKU’s punt return to start the Hilltoppers at their own 30. Shanley connected on a hook-and-ladder play to get the Toppers an opportunity to tie the game with one second left. However, Ryan Nuss missed a 51-yard field goal short as time expired.
For Louisville, the stars of the game have to be Malik Cunningham and Dae Williams. Williams led the charge with nine carries for 58 yards and Louisville’s only two touchdowns. Cunningham finished 10/18 for 88 yards, and also had 21 carries for 129 yards. Cunningham’s second straight game coming out of the bullpen (proverbially) may have been enough to warrant him the starting job, heading into next week’s game at Virginia. C.J. Avery had an early interception, Louisville’s first of the year. G.G. Robinson and Jarrett Jackson once again had sacks in the game.
Davis Shanley finished the game 22/33 for 240 yards and two total touchdowns (one passing and rushing). D’Andre Ferby led the Toppers with 16 carries for 74 yards, showing flashes of his play from their 2015 season when they won the Conference USA Championship. DeAngelo Malone had an early interception off a tipped pass from Puma to Kemari Averett.
Up next, Louisville looks to try and regroup after a closer-than-expected win, by going on the road at Virginia. But that said, things obviously have to get better in a hurry for the Cards.