Let it be known that Louisville football remains undefeated at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN.
Louisville (2-1), aided by three touchdowns from Tutu Atwell, was able to secure a 38-21 win over in-state foe Western Kentucky (1-2). The victory over the Hilltoppers gives the Cardinals their 11th straight win against them, and the Cardinals are 3-0 at Nissan Stadium all-time.
Malik Cunningham was named the starter for today’s game as Jawon Pass sat out with an injury, but had some help from sophomore receiver Tutu Atwell.
From the first quarter on, Atwell made it known that it would be his day. The sophomore scored the first two touchdowns for Louisville in the first half; his first came on a nine-yard pop pass from Malik Cunningham in the first quarter. The second would come on a 46-yard pass from Cunningham to Atwell, pushing the Louisville lead to 14-0.
Before the game would get out of WKU’s reach, the Hilltoppers scored a touchdown via 77-yard pass from Steven Duncan to tight end Joshua Simon. WKU’s deficit was then 14-7 after the catch-and-run TD by Simon.
But Louisville would score 17 unanswered points to enter halftime with a 31-7 lead. Javian Hawkins scored his first touchdown of the season from 20 yards out with 8:08 remaining. Blanton Creque hit a 43-yard field goal with 1:23 left, and then Louisville got a defensive touchdown from Rodjay Burns. Burns picked up a fumble and returned it 30 yards for the score. The fumble return touchdown by Burns was the first defensive touchdown by a Louisville player since September 2017.
Louisville’s defense was able to stifle WKU’s running game, in particular Toppers running back Gaej Walker, who had back-to-back 100-yard games entering today. Walker had 14 yards on six carries in the first half, and facing a massive deficit to start the second half, the Hilltoppers moved towards a pass-heavy gameplan to cut into the deficit.
After Louisville lost a fumble on their first drive of the second half, WKU responded with Duncan’s second touchdown throw of the game. Duncan found Jahcour Pearson on a eight-yard pass, cutting the Louisville lead to 31-14.
Louisville then had its second quarterback exit the game, as Malik Cunningham left after his helmet came off. Freshman Evan Conley entered the game and couldn’t complete a third-down pass, but on his next full drive, he found Tutu Atwell on a 62-yard bomb downfield for his first career passing touchdown. Atwell would complete the hat trick with his third touchdown of the day, becoming the first U of L receiver to do so since James Quick in 2015.
The lone touchdown in the fourth quarter was from WKU, as Steven Duncan had a hat trick of his own with his third touchdown pass. Duncan found Kyle Fourtenbary on a three-yard pass to cut it to 38-21.
Louisville’s offense had more balanced totals tonight; the team had 210 rushing yards and 205 passing yards. Javian Hawkins (19 carries, 93 yards), Hassan Hall (12 carries, 55 yards), and Malik Cunningham (16 carries, 46 yards) each had 12+ carries, with Hawkins scoring the lone rushing touchdown for Louisville. In the last six games, Louisville has averaged 244 rushing yards per game with 6.02 yards per carry.
As a team, Louisville completed 10-of-16 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Malik Cunningham led the way with 8-of-13 passing for 119 yards and two touchdowns, both to Tutu Atwell.
Tutu Atwell, to no one’s surprise, led Louisville in receiving with four catches for 141 yards, and three touchdowns. Through three games this season, the sophomore has 11 catches for 241 yards and four touchdowns. Tutu Atwell is the fourth Louisville freshman or sophomore receiver to tally three touchdowns in a game, joining Arnold Jackson, Ibn Green, and Miguel Montano (stat credit: Kelly Dickey).
For Western Kentucky, their offense was led by their passing game. Steven Duncan completed 25-of-47 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Gaej Walker, who entered today’s game with back-to-back 100-yard games to open 2019, was held to 41 yards on 14 carries, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. As a team, WKU was held to 43 rushing yards on 23 carries. The 43 rushing yards is their lowest team total since October 2018.
Jacquez Sloan led WKU with six receptions. Joshua Simon (one reception, 77 yards, one touchdown), Jahcour Pearson (five receptions, 37 yards, touchdown), and Kyle Fourtenbary (one reception, three yards, touchdown) each had touchdowns from Steven Duncan, with Simon leading the team in receiving yards.
Up next, Louisville will hit the road for its first true road game at Florida State on Saturday afternoon.