LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Malik Cunningham ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to lead Louisville, which cruised to a 30-3 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday night.
In guiding the Cardinals (1-1) to their first victory of the season, the redshirt junior quarterback completed 15-of-23 passes for 277 yards. He got some early help from special teams. Marvin Dallas recovered a muffed punt return at the Colonels 25, leading to Cunningham’s first score, a 5-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
Braden Smith made it 13-0 with a 49-yard punt return for a score with 10:15 left in the first half.
Cunningham would have had another touchdown, but freshman Ahmari Huggins-Bruce dropped the ball on the EKU 1 on what would have been a 95-yard touchdown pass with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter. The ball rolled into the endzone, and the Colonels recovered for a touchback.
“It’s unfortunate,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said of Huggins-Bruce, who finished with a Louisville true freshman record 150 receiving yards on four catches. “He did the hard part. The heavy lifting was outrunning the whole defense. Then the easy part, anybody in this room could just carry the ball across the line, but… he still had a great night.”
Cunningham was replaced by Evan Conley on the next series as the Cardinals were well in command by that point.
The Colonels (1-1) mustered just 233 yards of offense and turned it over three times, with Louisville cornerback Kei’Trel Clark picking off two passes.
EKU coach Walt Wells said he told his team before the game they had a chance to compete, but they had to avoid mistakes.
“You can’t turn the ball over, can’t have negative plays,” he said. “These games, you have to get to the fourth quarter to have a chance, then the pressure goes to them. We never got it to the fourth quarter.”
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels held Louisville’s offense to just 173 yards in the first half and stayed in the game until Louisville’s final first half drive, which ended with a Cunningham 3-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds left. Turnovers doomed any chance they had to hang in with their Power 5 hosts.
Louisville: The Cardinals defense played much better than it did in Monday’s loss to Ole Miss, albeit against a much weaker foe. While Cunningham got better as the game progressed, some early struggles against an FCS squad will not generate much confidence in the Louisville offense as the schedule gets tougher.
Even Cunningham agreed with that assessment, calling it an “ugly win” for the team.
“It’s a good win, but we’re not proud about that win,” he said.
Eastern Kentucky holds its home opener next Saturday night against Indiana State.
Louisville hosts Central Florida in a nationally televised game Friday night.
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