LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Micale Cunningham accounted for four touchdowns and passed for a career-high 343 yards, helping Louisville overcome a mistake-prone start to roll past Western Kentucky 35-21 in Saturday night's season opener for both schools.
Cunningham completed 19 of 34 passes with TDs of 28, 2 and 70 yards to surpass his previous yardage best of 288 last season against Boston College. The junior quarterback also rushed for a 14-yard score after hitting tight end Ean Pfeifer with his first TD pass that tied the game at 7.
Dez Fitzpatrick had a 70-yard TD among four receptions for 110 yards. Sophomore Braden Smith also had four catches for 110 yards, including a 63-yarder that set up Cunningham's first TD pass on the next play.
Louisville coach Scott Satterfield credited Cunningham's success to his receivers' getting open, and the QB agreed.
“We knew coming into this game a lot of guys would have to make some plays,” Cunningham said. "We knew they would try to take (leading receiver) Tutu (Atwell) away and they did a pretty good job of that. Dez, Braden and Justin Marshall made some plays for us on the outside.
“When they take away our No. 1 guy, some other guys got to step up and they did tonight. That was good to see.”
A fumbled punt snap on Louisville's opening possession resulted in Gaej Walker's 1-yard TD run for WKU. Louisville regrouped to score on four of the next five drives as Javian Hawkins rushed for a 19-yard TD and Marshon Ford caught a TD pass to make it 28-7. The Cardinals outgained the Hilltoppers 487-248, including 337-120 by halftime on the way to winning their 12th consecutive series meeting.
“We didn't start out great," Satterfield said, “but guys kept their composure and then we had a great second quarter. We also got a lot of things we've got to work on to get better, but I thought our defense came out and played outstanding tonight.”
Tyrrell Pigrome tossed a 12-yard TD to Mitchell Tinsley and finished with 129 yards passing in his WKU debut after transferring from Maryland. Omari Alexander blocked a Logan Lupo punt to set up Malik Staples' 1-yard TD for another Hilltoppers score.
“We just didn’t execute," said Staples, who transferred from Louisville. “The plays are there, everything’s written up right. We’ve just got a lack of execution. I think we beat ourselves.”
The game was played in the rain before 11,179 physically distanced fans at Cardinal Stadium.
LONG DRIVES, BIG PLAYS
Louisville had four scoring drives of 85 yards or more and another for 65. The Cardinals also racked up four chunk plays of 41 yards or more.
SHOW OF UNITY
Louisville players ran on the field before their game against Western Kentucky carrying American and Black Lives Matter flags, the latter featuring the school’s old English “L” in the middle. The Cardinals’ helmets also featured decals for BLM and DR 2 to honor signee Dexter Rentz Jr., who was shot and killed by gunfire in Orlando on April 26.
Western Kentucky: Short touchdowns set up from punt coverage helped the Hilltoppers avoid a shutout, and they managed another score late in the game. They had other opportunities that came up empty, as Jahcour Pearson was stripped after a 50-yard reception before they later turned it over on downs near the goal line. The defense struggled to contain Cunningham.
Louisville: After looking rusty on an opening drive that began with a holding penalty and ended with Lupo's fumbled snap to set up WKU's first score, the Cardinals dialed in on both sides of the ball. Cunningham's 63-yard strike to Braden Smith quickly awakened the offense, which continued to show its knack for rolling up big yardage. Most encouraging for Louisville was a defense that registered 10 tackles for loss for 40 yards and with three sacks for 22 yards.
Western Kentucky hosts Liberty on Saturday, seeking its first series win in three meetings. The schools are meeting for the first time since 1996.
Louisville hosts Miami (Florida) in an ACC opener Saturday night, looking to avenge last year’s 52-27 road loss to the Hurricanes.
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