Louisville football was hoping to take a step on the right direction after a losing season in 2021.
The Cardinals were picked by ACC media in July to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division, ahead of only Florida State, Boston College and Syracuse.
Three weeks into the season, the Cardinals have lost to two of those teams. They suffered a season-opening 31-7 loss to the Orange then fell to the Seminoles 35-31 in their home opener Friday night. A road trip against Boston College is coming up in two weeks, which has turned into a must-win contest if U of L (1-2, 0-2 ACC) wants to have any chance of salvaging its season with a grueling back half of the season still ahead.
Louisville entered the Week 3 contest with a boost of confidence from its 20-14 road win over the University of Central Florida that seemed to prove it could, after all, win the close games. For a moment Friday, it seemed the Cardinals were going to repeat the feat, but the same issues that plagued it against Syracuse popped up once again — too many penalties and missed opportunities.
The Cardinals committed 11 penalties for 81 yards Friday. Coming into Week 3, only 19 teams in the country had more than Louisville's 19, which includes Syracuse and UCF, both of whom sit at 21. U of L is now at 30 with Utah State’s 28 being the most heading into this weekend. Cardinals coach Scott Satterfield noted those missteps showed up on every side of the ball, including special teams.
“We have not had any (on special teams) in the first two games and we had two tonight,” he said. “We had two holding penalties on a punt return and another one. So, it was really all three phases that contributed to that and was not just one side of the ball with penalties, but again, they hurt you big time.”
When it came to Louisville's defense, the Cardinals weren't able to capitalize on handling Seminoles backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker with FSU starting quarterback Jordan Travis out of the game before halftime. It started out well enough with Rodemaker being sacked three times and picked off once in his first few drives.
Then the tides turned in the second half.
Rodemaker settled down and he threw the game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Wilson with 7:54 remaining in the contest.
"I think they switched their scheme up, and they executed where we didn't," Cardinals linebacker Momo Sanogo said. "They got some explosive plays on us in the passing game and in the run game. Kudos to (FSU coach Mike) Norvell. He did a good job of switching it up, giving a different look than he gave us the entire first half. He found success and we didn't. We've got to come back and fix that and finish games."
Offensively, Louisville seemed to have found a rhythm with quarterback Malik Cunningham producing 370 total yards and three touchdowns, two of which came on runs of 8 and 18 yards. They saw running backs Trevion Cooley, who scored twice, and Jawhar Jordan, who got the start in place of the injured Tiyon Evans and Jalen Mitchell, step up. Jordan and Cooley combined for 125 rushing yards, with Cooley scoring two TDs (one receiving, one rushing) and making four catches on four targets for 36 yards.
But when the game was on the line in the final minutes the offense sputtered — twice. Cunningham's interception while trying to throw the ball out of bounds with 37 seconds left sealed the deal.
“I think Malik was trying to hit (Ahmari) Huggins-Bruce on the sideline,” Satterfield said. “He was open but the ball kind of sailed a little bit and the defensive back (Kevin Knowles) made the interception there at the end. It’s very hurtful and disappointing to not be able to win this game. We know Florida State is a good football team, but we were right there and went toe-to-toe with them and in control the whole game until late.”
Injuries played a part in the loss and could impact the upcoming weeks. After being a question mark all week, Mitchell (lower leg) was eventually ruled out, while Evans (unspecified) was a game day decision. Before the first quarter ended, the Cardinals were also without offensive lineman Trevor Reid (unspecified) and wide receiver Dee Wiggins (foot). Their health statuses weren’t immediately known after the game.
“Tyler Hudson was in and out,” Satterfield said. “There were a lot of moving parts out there when you think about it. It was a physical game. They (Florida State) had some guys that were out, as well.”
True, the Seminoles lost their starting quarterback and star defensive lineman Jared Verse, but they found ways to adjust. Louisville didn't.
Video highlights from home opener:Louisville drops ACC matchup to Florida State football
The most unfortunate part about Louisville losing its first two conference games is that Florida State and Syracuse were believed to be two of the most winnable games on the schedule.
It doesn't get easier anytime soon.
Louisville will have a break from league play against South Florida on Sept. 24. The Cardinals must make the necessary adjustments and restore confidence before a road game with Boston College. The Eagles have an experienced quarterback in Phil Jurkovec and a top-tier, but smaller receiver in Zay Flowers (5-10, 172 pounds), who already has 14 receptions, 196 yards and two TDs.
After BC, the next four weeks include a road game against Virginia, a bye week and home games against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Then there's the end-of-season gauntlet that includes going to Memorial Stadium to face Clemson on Nov. 12 before returning home to take on NC State to end ACC action. The Governor's Cup game at No. 9 Kentucky ends the season.
There should be urgency now at 1-2.
“They’re all one-game seasons. You’ve got to do the best you can do with whatever you’re getting ready to play,” Satterfield said. “Our focus will be on South Florida on Sunday. … You can’t dwell on the past, win or loss. You learn from it, but you can’t dwell on it. Then you come back, and you really focus on what you’ve got to get better at. And, it’s everybody. All the players, all the coaches, everybody’s got to find something to get better at. … We’ve got to be smarter in what we’re doing.”
Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville football's Loss to FSU digs Cardinals into deeper ACC hole