Louisville overcame an early 14-0 deficit to go on a 31-0 run from the second to the fourth quarter. The Cardinals relied on 100-yard games from both Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell, as well as a 300-yard passing game as a team, as U of L (8-5) took a 38-28 win over Mississippi State (6-7) in the Music City Bowl.
The win is Louisville’s second in the bowl game in the last five seasons, and wraps up a season where the Cardinals rebounded from 2-10 in 2018 to 8-5 in 2019. Scott Satterfield also remains undefeated in bowl games with a 4-0 record.
Louisville’s offense started off hot with a 90+ yard drive, despite starting inside their own five-yard line. But Dez Fitzpatrick fumbled the ball away inside the Mississippi State five-yard line, and the Bulldogs recovered at the one.
Louisville’s loss turned into Mississippi State’s gain on the ensuing drive, as the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on a 99-yard drive. Tommy Stevens scored from three yards out, capping off a drive where he accounted for 72 of the 99 yards (45 rushing, 27 passing).
Mississippi State extended their lead to 14-0 after Nick Gibson’s three-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The drive also saw Louisville’s defense take a huge blow, as linebacker Dorian Etheridge was ejected for kicking a player while trying to get free from under him.
Despite being down two scores and losing one of their top defensive players, Louisville responded by going deep into their playbook. Micale Cunningham threw a backwards pass to Tutu Atwell, who then completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marshon Ford, cutting Mississippi State’s lead in half to 14-7. Louisville kicker James Turner then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to give the Cards another possession inside Mississippi State territory.
The Cardinals would be unable to capitalize on their following drive. False start penalties pushed Louisville behind the sticks, and they eventually failed to convert a fourth-and-11 spot where Micale Cunningham barely overthrew Dez Fitzpatrick down the sideline.
After forcing a three-and-out on the next drive, Louisville’s offense would get the ball back. They would eventually score right as the first half ended, as Ryan Chalifoux hit a 31-yard field goal to cut it to 14-10 at halftime.
Louisville had their opening drive of the second half reach the red zone once again, but this time Chalifoux missed a 34-yard field goal that would have cut the lead to one.
The Louisville defense forced another three-and-out to give their offense another chance, and this time they capitalized. Micale Cunningham found Devante Peete wide open down the right sideline for a touchdown that put the Cardinals ahead 17-14.
The defense then came up huge with back-to-back plays that ended with another Louisville touchdown. Chandler Jones had a well-executed corner blitz that was a loss of 13 yards, putting Mississippi State into a 3rd-and-22 spot. Mississippi State QB Tommy Stevens then lost a fumble on the scramble and Louisville safety Khane Pass ran it back for a touchdown, extending the Cardinals lead to 24-14. The scoop-and-score was the first defensive touchdown by Louisville since Rodjay Burns did so against Western Kentucky in mid-September at Nissan Stadium.
Louisville added another touchdown in the fourth quarter with Cunningham’s nine-yard pass to Marshon Ford, extending the lead to 31-14 with 13:52 left in the game.
An 18-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Stevens to Stephen Guidry with 10:25 left would cut Louisville’s lead to 31-21. Mississippi State’s next drive would get past midfield, but failed to convert a fourth-and-down as Rodjay Burns broke up a pass under a heavy rush.
Javian Hawkins would cap off a very cathartic bowl win with a five-yard touchdown run on Louisville’s final drive, extending the Cardinals lead to 38-21. Hawkins would finish with 105 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, his eighth 100-yard game of the season.
Mississippi State would get one last touchdown with 27 seconds left in the game, with Tommy Stevens throwing a 24-yard pass to Osirus Mitchell to cut it to 38-28.
Also reaching the 100-yard mark for Louisville was wide receiver Tutu Atwell, reeling in a career-high nine catches for 147 yards and also throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marshon Ford in the second quarter. Atwell ends 2019 with the single-season receiving yards record at Louisville, finishing with 1,276 yards and tying another school record with 12 touchdown catches in the process. Marshon Ford (three catches, 52 yards, two touchdowns) and Devante Peete (24-yard touchdown) also had touchdown grabs in the Music City Bowl.
Micale Cunningham finished 16-of-23 for 279 yards and two touchdowns, adding 81 rushing yards on 16 carries to his stat line. The redshirt sophomore ends his 2019 season with 2,065 yards passing, 22 passing touchdowns with just five interceptions, and adding six more rushing scores on the ground. In total, the Cardinals finished with 510 total yards of offense (312 passing, 198 rushing).
Louisville’s defense also played one of their better games against Power Five competition, despite the 28 points allowed. The Cardinals tallied four sacks and ten tackles for loss, highlighted by C.J. Avery’s two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Boosie Whitlow and Chandler Jones also added crucial sacks, with Jones’s sack setting up the eventual fumble return touchdown by Khane Pass.
Like Louisville, Mississippi State’s quarterback would lead the team in both rushing and passing. Tommy Stevens completed 17-of-26 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and led the Bulldogs with 71 yards on 17 carries with another score on the ground. Nick Gibson also contributed with 54 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Stephen Guidry led all Bulldogs receivers with six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Mississippi State also had four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, with Kobe Jones leading the team in both categories (two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss).