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Lingering thoughts: Louisville 35, Western Kentucky 21

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Let’s dive deeply into it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Virginia at Louisville Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We waited six months for this game, so I don’t care how many days after the fact this comes; U of L’s triumph over WKU is getting an extended write-up.

—We joked on the first podcast last week about how all of us were going to go into this game with a “even if they don’t play that well, it’s just great to be watching the guys again” mentality that would be totally erased in the first 10 minutes after a dropped pass or a bad call or something else that jolted us back into our standard shell of insanity.

As it turns out, it didn’t even take that long.

A holding penalty to negate a positive pick up on the first play of the season, three less than stellar plays after than and then a massive screw-up by a punter whose name I’d just learned a couple weeks ago had me immediately longing for the simpler times of April and May. Not really, but I was unhappy. I’m sure you were too.

In a bizarre way, this was the moment that sort of shook me out of the “this is weird, this still feels weird” mentality that had gripped me in the days leading up to the game. Once toe met leather inside Cardinal Stadium, I knew I’d care significantly, I just wasn’t sure the in-game feelings would mirror the ones I’ve always known.

Muffling curses at a first-time punter so you won’t wake up the baby is a surefire way to know that while not everything is going to feel the same this season, the raw emotions will. For that I say: Thank you, Logan Lupo.

Let’s not ever do it again.

—Not shockingly, watching Louisville football with a 1-year-old is about a billion times easier than watching Louisville football with a 1-week old. At least with a late kickoff.

She went down right after kickoff, and then Mrs. CC and I enjoyed our homemade chicken wings and watched the Cards roll for the next three hours. A stark contrast from the September game experiences of a year ago.

She may have not seen a single snap but she brought the appropriate energy earlier in the day.

I’d say she’ll have to wear the dress for every game day for the rest of the season, but she’s a monster baby and is probably already too big for it three days later.

—Some official game notes from Saturday via U of L:

TEAM NOTES:

-Louisville improved to 22-12 all-time against Western Kentucky with a 35-21 victory on Saturday night.

-Louisville’s win was its 12th straight over Western Kentucky all-time, the longest streak against a single opponent in program history.

-Louisville is now 56-40-6 all-time in season openers, with a 36-18-3 mark at home.

-The victory was the first season-opening win for the Cardinals since defeating Purdue 35-28 to open up the 2017 campaign.

-Louisville recorded 343 passing yards in the victory. The Cardinals threw for 300 yards or more three times in 2019.

-The Cardinals had a pair of players (Dez Fitzpatrick and Braden Smith) finish with more than 100 yards receiving. It was the first time UofL has had multiple 100-yard receivers since last season’s win over Bostno College.

-Louisville had four touchdown drives of at least 85 yards on Saturday, including a pair that covered better than 90 yards. The Cardinals had 11 touchdown drives of at least 85 yards and five of at least 90 yards in 2019.

-In eight seasons as a head coach, Scott Satterfield’s teams are now 49-3 when scoring 30 or more points. UofL scored at least 30 points seven times in Satterfield’s first season.

-Louisville averaged 6.8 yards per play in the win. The Cardinals ranked 12th nationally in 2019 at 6.7 yards per play.

-The Cardinals connected for a 70-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Louisville had five passing touchdowns of at least 70 yards in 2019.

PLAYER NOTES

-DL Yaya Diaby, DB Kei’Trel Clark and OL Renato Brown each made their first career starts on Saturday.

-Ean Pfeifer scored the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the season on a 28-yard reception in the first quarter.

-Pfeifer became the first player in UofL history to score a touchdown on each of his first three career receptions.

-Braden Smith made his first career reception in the first quarter, a deep ball that netted 63 yards.

-Smith finished with four catches for 110 yards, becoming the first Cardinal to record 100 receiving yards in his UofL debut since Deion Branch tallied 123 yards against Kentucky in the 2000 season opener.

-Javian Hawkins found the end zone from 19 yards out in the second quarter. It marks his fourth straight game with a rushing touchdown dating back to the 2019 season.

-Kei’Trel Clark, Jamel Starks, Brock Travelstead, K.C. Cloyd, Logan Lupo, Cameron DeGeorge, Jordan Watkins and Dez Melton all made their Louisville debuts on Saturday.

-It was the first collegiate game for Starks, Travelstead, Watkins,

-Micale Cunningham rushed for a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter, moving him into second place by himself for rushing touchdowns by a QB in Louisville history with 12.

-Cunningham finished the night 19-of-34 passing with 343 yards and three touchdowns.

-The 343 yards are a new career-high for him, surpassing his previous high of 288 yards against Boston College in 2019.

-Cunningham has tallied at least three passing touchdowns three times in his career, all coming in the last five games dating back to the 2019 season.

-Cunningham led the country in passing yards per completion in 2019 at 18.4 yards per reception. The junior averaged 18.1 yards per completion in the win over WKU.

-Dez Fitzpatrick registered the sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career, closing out the night with 110 yards on four catches.

-Fitzpatrick’s 70-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was the second-longest reception of his career, trailing only a 74-yard touchdown catch against Florida State in 2019.

-Dorian Etheridge finished the night as Louisville’s leading tackler with eight.

-The senior linebacker set a new career-high with 3.5 tackles for loss, surpassing his previous high of 2.0 against Kent State in 2017.

-Monty Montgomery registered the second multi-sack game of his Louisville career, picking up a pair in the third quarter on Saturday.

—The first of many 2020 parties in the locker room, hopefully:

—The aspect of the game that seems to be receiving the most amount of debate as we dive deeper into work week is the play of the offensive line.

My eyes were among those who saw an O-line that gave a decent, but not great effort against a solid WKU front spearheaded by two fantastic defensive ends. The previously mentioned first play of the game aside, the unit avoided penalties and gave Micale Cunningham ample opportunity to get the ball out of his hands on the game’s most important plays. The unit also finished with just one sack allowed on the evening.

Still, I was surprised the push on run plays wasn’t a bit stronger, and I was surprised at the number of times Cunningham’s own linemen were pushed back into his face on obvious passing downs.

Others saw a much more complete performance.

I’m in the majority of not knowing exactly what goes into Pro Football Focus’ grading formula for O-line play, but I’m willing to take them at their word here only because I like what their word is saying.

—On our preview pod, Keith and I both pointed to the inexperience on special teams as the most legitimate reason to feel nervous about this game. We weren’t envisioning two punting gaffs that directly resulted in a pair of sub five-yard TD drives for the Hilltoppers, but clearly the concerns that many had entering the season were valid.

We didn’t get to see James Turner attempt a field goal, but he did knock all five extra points through the uprights, which is something. The kickoff and kickoff return team work was ... less than stellar.

As for Lupo, the two major errors can be corrected, but perhaps more concerning than those plays were the punts that went off without a major hitch. Lupo averaged just 37.3 yards per punt on the three boots that weren’t fumbled or blocked. That’s not great. If he’s going to take this rugby style approach then he’s either going to get more leg into them or place them in a spot where they can’t be fielded so that he can get the desired roll.

We also need to discuss “That’s not on me” -gate. Most people seemed to immediately assume that someone in the crowd was giving Lupo shit and that’s how he responded. My thought was that he was explaining himself to friends or family members that were sitting relatively near the sidelines. Regardless, it wasn’t a great look, but I’m also not going to crucify the kid. A hundred excuses and complaints are uttered on the sidelines in every football game in America, we typically just don’t have audio and/or visual of them.

Lupo was the No. 9 kicker in the country coming out of a powerhouse high school in Florida, and Scott Satterfield voiced his full support for him during Monday’s press conference. I think (read: hope) that ultimately, he’s going to be fine.

—Card Chronicle Bird Mask wearing a mask (or serving as a mask) is the hottest fan trend in sports, folks.

—The announced attendance for Saturday was 11,179. Rain likely played some factor in that, but I think it’s safe to assume the notion that U of L was going to be beating people away with sticks in order to keep attendance from topping the 12,000 limit on game days was a bit misguided.

I’m very curious to see how much closer to 12,000 that number gets on Saturday and then later in the season. Props to everyone at U of L and all the fans who have handled this reasonably and respectfully. You’re the reason why we’re even able to have this discussion.

—Monty Montgomery was my defensive crush all last season, and he made a case for even more love on Saturday night. Dude is a big play machine who absolutely flies around the field. I adore the way he plays.

—Rodjay Burns is another guy on the defensive side of the ball who was really impressive. He’s been so hyped for the last two years, and has kind of had the Josh Harvey-Clemons problem of being good, but not quite as good as everyone thinks he should be. On Saturday, he certainly looked like a guy poised for a monster senior season.

—Speaking of hype, I feel like Louisville has had this phenomenon for as long as I can remember where a wide receiver who was the buzz of fall camp winds up doing little to nothing during the actual season. Jimmy Riley was this guy like seven years in a row it felt like.

It’s nice to know that this isn’t going to be the case with Braden Smith. Guy is an absolute burner who seems like the perfect weapon to ensure that opposing secondaries can’t focus too much of their attention on TuTu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick.

—New intro video for 2020:

—Roy Philpott and Tim Hasselbeck made a TON of screw-ups Saturday night (I think Philpott confused Hawkins and Hall on no fewer than 35 percent of U of L’s run plays), but easily the best was Philpott confidently saying “he will have enough for a first down” right before a commercial break as new PA guy Michael Lattin audibly belts out “IT’S THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRD DOWN” in the background. It was 3rd and 5, by the way.

—Speaking of Lattin, the word from those who attended the game was that while it was inescapably weird and unnerving not hearing Sean Moth’s voice inside Cardinal Stadium, Lattin did a good job. It’s impossible for these types of transitions not be at least a little bit awkward, but as long as the new guy isn’t universally loathed, it’s probably going to be ok once everyone gets used to it.

—One of Scott Satterfield’s recurring statements over the last six months was that the teams who handled the unprecedented adversity of the 2020 offseason the best were going to be the ones that performed the best in the fall. U of L had no major offseason incidents, no horrible headlines, and the only social media comments from players about their coaching staff were ones voicing their support.

That offseason unity and focus certainly wasn’t the only reason Louisville was able to play one of the more clean games of a sloppy opening weekend, but I certainly don’t think it hurt.

Just a tad different than the opening week efforts of 2017 and 2018.

—I’m not saying Louisville would have lost had it not happened, but Micale Cunningham’s third down bomb to Braden Smith on the Cards’ second drive of the game felt like the night’s most important play. U of L had zero momentum, hadn’t produced a solid offensive play that hadn’t been negated by a penalty yet, and was in danger of giving the ball to WKU in a position that would have given them a good chance to go up two scores.

After that throw, momentum never really left the side of the home team again.

—It’s pretty wild that we — and I use “we” here solely to try and incorporate everyone in order to make myself feel better about the fact that I absolutely thought this incredibly wrong thing — spent a year and a half thinking that Micale Cunningham’s largest strength was actually his biggest weakness.

The book on Cunningham up until the midway point of last season was that he was a terrific athlete who understood the game and could make accurate short throws, but that he couldn’t be trusted when it came to taking shots downfield. Turns out there aren’t many people in the county who throw a better deep ball than No. 3.

“We” apologize.

—You’re either a “we were to blown punts away from routing them” fan or a “if WKU’s safety makes two easy plays we would have been life and death to beat them” fan. It’s 2020. There is no in between.

—When Micale got dinged up in the second half, there were conflicting reports about which Louisville backup was preparing himself to come into the game. My understanding is that had a change needed to be made, both Jawon Pass and Evan Conley likely would have seen the field, but it would have been Pass who would have gone out their first.

—I don’t think I realized how much I missed seeing game day stuff from Cards fans everywhere until I started scrolling through the timeline on Saturday.

It feels so, so good to be back.

—It’s comforting to know that the only thing in the world that hasn’t been changed by the last six months is the advertising on the ACC Network, Yes, the products were a little different, but you know what I’m saying. The overall feel was exactly the same.

I’ve also noticed that there is a direct correlation between how the game is going and how I handle these ads.

Up 35-14 on WKU deep in the third quarter:

Everyone is tweeting about this alien tape shit. This is hilarious.

Losing to Josh Pasnter and Georgia Tech late in the second half:

Show the Perfect Brownie Pan commercial one more time and I swear to God I’m smashing this television and never turning this channel on again.

The Tac Shaver is respected in any situation though. Mf’er lets you shave underwater in a pool.

—I’m selfish so I don’t want Ean Pfeifer to catch another pass this season unless it’s a surefire touchdown. I’m serious. If I’m him and I’ve got defenders draped all over me for a three-yard grab near midfield, I’m flopping and trying to get a flag.

Four catches in your career, three for touchdowns: Pretty cool.

Three catches in your career, all for touchdowns: Legend.

—Overall, I think if you watched some of the other nationally relevant teams from around the country play over the weekend, it’s hard not to be encouraged by what you saw from Louisville in week one. Clearly, there are a number of things that need to either be fixed or improved, but that’s the case for every team in every season after every week one.

We have a competent coaching staff, we have a great quarterback, we have a loaded backfield, we have elite weapons on the outside, and we have a defense that certainly appeared, at least for one night, like it’s going to be much improved. The last six months have taught me not to expect too much from any period of time lying directly in front of you, but for right now, in this moment, I am excited. That’s about as much as you can hope for these days.

Go Cards.