Loss to Miami shows Cards still can't stop big plays

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Going into their nationally televised Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Miami Saturday night in Cardinal Stadium, Louisville coach Scott Satterfield had three primary goals:


--Get the Cardinals' running game untracked. Mission accomplished.


--Avoid special teams blunders that were costly against Western Kentucky. Check.


--Prevent big plays. Oops.

I
f you're Meat Loaf, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," as his song goes. But if you're Satterfield, only three out of three will do, and the 24TH-ranked Cardinals (1-1, 0-1) glaringly and fatally fell one short in their 47-34 loss to the Hurricanes (2-0, 1-0).


If that third item sounds familiar, it should. Stopping those morale-busting, scoreboard-lighting plays had been a focus throughout fall camp.


But as they did all too often in 2019, quick strike, yardage-eating plays doomed UofL's chances to avenge a 52-27 loss to Miami last season and put the Cards in an early hole in the ACC race, with a trip to Pittburgh (2-0, 1-0) looming on Saturday.


There was Cam'Ron Harris, who skirted right end and streaked 75 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown, untouched until a defender finally appeared and forced him to dive into the end zone.


There was freshman running back Jaylan Knighton, who slipped unnoticed out of the backfield and turned an easy pass from quarterback D'Eriqu King into another 75-yard TD.


And there was tight end Brevin Jordan, who was in another zip code from any UofL defensive back when he caught a 47-yard touchdown pass over the middle that put the final nail in the Cards' coffin.


Three busted assignments, three touchdowns, plus another handful of breakdowns on critical plays. With ESPN's GameDay crew and an ABC-TV audience looking on, Louisville's defenders were definitely not ready-for-prime-time players.


"We made too many mistakes," Satterfield said, stating the obvious. "Three touchdowns and nobody's even around them. We didn't create any turnovers and we gave up too many big plays. You have to make offenses drive the ball. It comes back to just doing what we're supposed to do on defense. Because the thing about defense, if everybody's doing what they're supposed to do, but if you've got one person that's not, then it can be a big play. All eleven have to play as one."


Miami's back-to-back 75-yarders were backbreaking, coming in a sudden third-quarter blitz when UofL was still very much in contention.


Miami had dominated for over half the game before Javian Hawkins capped a 75-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown run to pull the Cards to within 20-13 early in the third quarter and give them new life and renewed enthusiasm.


It was short-lived. On Miami's first play following the kickoff, Harris broke his 75-yard run. Then, after UofL had retaliated with Tutu Atwell's six-yard TD catch, the Canes struck on their first play again, on Knighton's reception for a 34-20 lead with 5:02 left in the quarter.


"Obviously demoralizing," Satterfield said. "We weren't playing great, but we're still in the game, so we felt pretty good about it. It's a one-possession game. Let's roll. You're feeling good and the next thing you know, one play and they score a touchdown. Then they hit another one and it's tough. That's where we have to be tougher. We have to be mentally tougher in those scenarios. The game's not over, there's a lot of ball left to be played. We have to get a lot tougher mentally. That's the bottom line."


"It was definitely devastating," linebacker C.J. Avery said. "Extremely frustrating and something we have to get fixed. We will get better, absolutely."


UofL's defense had its moments, just not enough of them. The Cards forced Miami into four field goals, but they were almost automatic by fifth-year senior and FIU transfer Jose Borregales, who nailed a school record 57-yarder along with kicks of 48, 40 and 22 yards. Still, the Canes averaged 10.8 yards per pass, 5.3 per rush and converted 6-of-13 third downs.


UofL's defensive shortcomings overshadowed another good performance by quarterback Malik (prevously Micale) Cunningham and the offense, which rolled up 516 yards. Cunningham had his second straight 300-yard-plus game, throwing for 307 yards on 26-of-36, with one interception. And Hawkins jump-started the running attack  with 164 yards on 27 carries, 20 more than the Cards had as a team against Western Kentucky.


But Louisville's fortunes this season will rise or fall with how much improvement its defense can make. If a team compiles more than 500 yards, scores 34 points and still loses, the problem is obvious. The Cards can't expect to attain the success they want by relying on winning shootouts week after week.


MACK PROPOSES EARLY-SEASON BUBBLE


UofL basketball coach Chris Mack didn't mention his plan during a press conference Thursday, but on Friday he floated the idea via Twitter of 8-12 teams each playing 3-5 games in a Louisville bubble, with lodging and medical protocols provided.


Mack's proposal is for non-conference games to be played Nov. 25 to Dec. 5 featuring teams within driving distance.


Asked about a possible bubble during his teleconference, Mack said. "There's been talk of it (among ACC coaches). How much talk, I wouldn't be able to (speculate). But we've talked about non-conference bubbles, ACC bubbles. I'm sure there will be some conferences that attempt that. The NBA pulled it off, but they've got a lot more money than we do in college basketball. Yeah, there's been a lot of talk, but to say anything is concrete, I don't think so at this point."


According to John Rothstein of CBS Sports the ACC-Big Ten Challenge games will be played on Dec. 8 and 9, and the proposed 20-game ACC regular season will start Dec. 15 and 16, Tuesday and Wednesday.


Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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