LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Having familiar faces back on defense made a big difference for Louisville.
So did protecting the ball after coughing it up early.
Malik Cunningham accounted for two touchdowns to offset three first-half turnovers, and Louisville held Syracuse to a season-low 137 yards with three takeaways for a 30-0 victory on Friday night.
The Cardinals (3-6, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) recorded their first FBS shutout since September 2013 against FIU (72-0) and first against a Power Five opponent since North Carolina in 2004 (34-0). It was also their fewest yards allowed since holding FCS-member Murray State to 80 in 2017.
Louisville's defensive effort was sorely needed after a coronavirus outbreak depleted that unit before meeting Virginia Tech and resulted in a postponement of the next game at Virginia. Even better, the Cardinals sustained it the whole game.
“I didn't know how they were going to play tonight,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said, "but based off what they did this week, I thought they were going to play well.
“To come out and shut out a team, tremendous job. They created turnovers, were great on third down."
It was also needed to offset a turnover-prone start by both teams.
All of the turnovers occurred before the break, though Cunningham’s two interceptions around a fumble in Syracuse territory weren’t as costly. That’s because the Cardinals’ replenished defense created just as many opportunities, two of which the offense converted into 10 points for a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
Cunningham added a 4-yard TD run with 29 seconds remaining in the half before connecting with Tutu Atwell for a 19-yard score midway through the third. The junior quarterback settled down to finish 19-of-28 passing for 219 yards as the Cardinals gained 413 to end a two-game losing streak.
“Some of those things I've just got to eat and throw away," Cunningham said of the turnovers. "I just got to protect the football from here on out.”
Jalen Mitchell rushed 11 times for 46 yards with a 2-yard TD while Maurice Burkley had 56 yards on 10 carries for Louisville, which ran 79 plays to Syracuse's 41.
Syracuse (1-8, 1-7) never got going in losing its sixth consecutive game and being shut out for the first time since 2014 against Clemson (54-0). The Orange managed just seven first downs, was 1 of 10 on third downs and ran seven plays in Louisville territory.
Freshman JaCobian Morgan completed 5-of-12 passes for 40 yards in his second start before being leaving the game in the third quarter after a hard hit and fumble while being sacked. The ground game managed just 92 yards.
“Those guys got twice as many plays as us, our defense was out there twice as many times,” Orange coach Dino Babers said. “It gets to be disappointing, obviously, not being able to produce on one side of the ball. It gets extremely frustrating.”
Syracuse: The Orange had the ball for just 18:14, crossed midfield just three times and turned it over on downs one of those times to set up Louisville’s second TD. For a while they appeared headed for a program-low yardage in ACC play. Their defense was physical at times and even recorded four sacks, but generally struggled to stop the Cardinals from driving.
Louisville: The Cardinals entered the game with three turnovers in both of the previous two games and didn’t help themselves with early generosity. Cunningham eventually settled down, and the rushing game generated 134 yards to provide balance. The defense was clearly happy being back at full strength, delivering several hard hits.
Syracuse hosts North Carolina State in its home finale on Nov. 28.
Louisville hosts Wake Forest on Nov. 28 in a game rescheduled from Dec. 5 by the ACC. The Cardinals will have a bye before finishing the season on Dec. 12 at Boston College.
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