Offense catches fire and Cards burn Florida State 48-16

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- BOOM!


That sound coming from Cardinal Stadium Saturday afternoon signaled the long-awaited return of Louisville's explosive offense, which had been AWOL most of the season.


Taking advantage of the kind of big plays that were expected from a high-powered unit that returned almost intact from 2019, the Cardinals blitzed Florida State 46-18 to snap a four-game losing streak and set up the possibility of a strong finish that in a season that had been a disappointment up to now.


Most of the fireworks came in the first half as UofL built a 31-14 lead by utilizing five plays of 35 or more yards, with passes of 35, 42 and 70 yards, and runs of 58 and 66 yards. The Cards (2-4, 1-4) didn't take as many shots down the field in the second half, but did get runs of 33 and 41 yards, the latter by third-string running back Maurice Burkley, filling in for the injured Hassan Hall.


Never mind that the outburst came against arguably the worst defensive team in the ACC, which was probably what UofL coach Scott Satterfield had in mind when he talked to his players at a pre-game meal the night before.


"We told the guys at our Friday night meeting that we had a great opportunity to explode as a football team because you could just feel it the last few weeks and you had to believe that," he said.


Believe this: Florida State, seeking its third straight win in the series, never had a chance.


Playing at home for the first time in over a month, UofL racked up a season-high 569 yards while getting dynamic plays from wide receiver Tutu Atwell, running back Javian Hawkins and quarterback Malik Cunningham, who delivered his best performance of the season.


 The Cards averaged 9.3 yards per play, the most ever allowed by an FSU team, with nine plays of 20 yards or more and 13 plays of 10 or more. They also were a perfect 6-for-6 on scores in the red zone, five of them touchdowns, and didn't commit a turnover for the second game in a row, .


"On the sidelines we were celebrating and saying, 'This is us, this is what we should have been doing all year,'" said Cunningham, who completed 16-of-24 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns.


Hawkins ran for a season-best 174 yards and three touchdowns from 70, nine and 10 yards. Atwell ignited UofL's offense with a 66-yard reception from Cunningham on the Cards' third possession of the game, then scored on a 58-yard pass early in the second quarter. He finished with 129 yards on only three catches and ran for a 2-yard TD, UofL's first in the 4th quarter in four games.


Louisville also got a 42-yard reception from tight end Marshon Ford, along with Burkley's 41-yard rush and a 35-yard run by Cunningham.


"They were dialed in today," Satterfield said. "Cunningham played well, Tutu got loose, Hawkins got loose. It was fun watching those guys make those kind of plays. That's what we have to do, we've got so many guys who can make those type of plays happen.


"You can just feel the sidelines erupt because we're accustomed to seeing that, and that's what we have to see. We've kind of been missing that connection with the deep ball several games this year and that's what we have to get back. Very efficient day offensively. Today when it all clicked, that will just propel us into next week. I can tell you, when you go into the locker room after a win it's a lot more fun than what's been happening the last few weeks."


All in all, Satterfield called it a "great day," and that was an apt description for an afternoon in which the Cards' defense complemented their offense by turning in a second straight solid effort, coming on the heels of a 12-7 loss to Notre Dame.


Florida State (2-4, 1-4) scored on its opening series with a 65-yard drive capped by quarterback Jordan Travis' 15-yard run, but after that UofL's defense was dominant.


The Seminoles averaged just 5.0 yards per play, converted only 7-of-18 third down tries and were 1-of-5 on fourth down attempts. The Cards made sure their former teammate, Travis, had a rough day, limiting him to 14-of-32 for 141 yards with one interception.


Florida State's 34 percent completion percentage -- former UofL commit Chubba Purdy went 0-for-9 -- was the lowest by a Power Five opponent since the Noles completed 33 percent (8-24) in a 63-20 loss in 2016.

 In addition to junior defensive back Jack Fagot's interception, UofL had nine pass breakups. The Cards also had six tackles for loss, and linebacker C.J. Avery contributed a team-high 12 tackles.


"It really came down to just doing our job," Avery said. "Coach (Bryan) Brown does a good job of putting us in position to succeed, then we've got to make sure we make the plays. Now we've got to continue to do it more."


After the Noles' early touchdown, UofL held them to one more TD in three red zone chances, including stopping them on 4th-and-inches in the third quarter when a score would have cut their deficit to 38-21 and kept their hopes alive for a comeback.


"Defensively, we gave up a touchdown drive, but after that we settled in and played very well the rest of the day," Satterfield said.


After FSU's first touchdown, UofL reeled off 28 unanswered points and the outcome was never in doubt the rest of the way.


UofL will stay at home for a game next Saturday against No. 19 Virginia Tech, which was 3-1 going into Saturday's game at Wake Forest.

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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