With UCF looming, UofL's offense vs. EKU raises more concerns

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- There weren't very many penalties during Louisville's 30-3 win over Eastern Kentucky Saturday night, but red flags were flying all over Cardinal Stadium for UofL fans who expected a breakout offensive performance that would bode well against much tougher competition for the remainder of the season.


Sure, the Cardinals won by 27 points and had 441 total yards, which sounds respectable, if not spectacular, until you understand that it came against an FCS team that had surrendered 501 yards against Western Carolina, which was hammered by No. 3 Oklahoma 76-0 in its next outing. And there were these other cautionary developments for the future in UofL's sluggish performance:


--The Cards couldn't establish control at the line of scrimmage and mount a consistent running attack until the outmanned Colonels' defense wore down. UofL managed only 34 yards on 11 carries in the first half, an average of just three yards per try. That improved to 5.5 in the second half.


--UofL's offense managed just two touchdowns on its own without help from the team's defense or special teams. Quarterback Malik Cunningham directed only two drives that paid off in TDs, 72 yards in 11 plays and 74 yards in three plays.


--The Cards were forced to punt on four of their first five possessions and were just 4-of-14 on third downs, including 0-5 in the second half. Not a good sign.


And to score only 10 points in the second half against an inferior opponent is definitely worrisome.


"Overall, we know we want to get better offensively and we'll continue to work on it," UofL coach Scott Satterfield said. "We've got high expectations. We have to sustain drives and one thing we know about UCF is they want to go fast. One of the best things we can do is keep them off the field, but third down has to get a lot better. That's obviously something we really have to focus on this week so we can keep drives moving."


To their credit, the players didn't crow about the win and made it plain they were unhappy, realizing it was unimpressive and that similar performances the rest of the way will result in losses.


"Ugly win," Cunningham said. "We're not proud about that win. A win is a win but we're not satisfied with it."


"We had a lot of mistakes," running back Jalen Mitchell said. "Just looking to clean that up and looking forward to UCF."


"It's not something we should be proud of," said wide receiver Josh Johnson. "We could have played better, executed better, and going into the rest of the season there are a lot of things we need to tune up."


If those things strike another sour note against University of Central Florida on Friday at 7:30, it could signal another long season for the Cards and more heat on Satterfield.


SMITH A 'SMOOTH OPERATOR'


Regarding the punt that Braden Smith returned 49 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter after fielding a line drive kick on the bounce, Satterfield said UofL had worked on handling those type of punts during the week.


"What they're trying to do is let the ball hit the ground so it'll roll another 25 yards," Satterfield said. "I thought Braden did an excellent job fielding those punts, because some of them could have gone 15-20 more yards, and particularly that one. I have a lot of confidence in Braden. He is a smooth operator back there. He has a lot of poise when it comes to fielding those punts. That's not easy to do. He just has a good knack for it, and I like the way he did it (Saturday)."


Smith, a senior from Flowood, Miss., wasn't as productive as a wide receiver. He caught three passes, but netted just 16 yards. He is Louisville's leading returning receiver from last year, when he had 27 catches for 370 yards for an average of 13.7.


Although Ahmari Huggins-Bruce was guilty of an embarrassing mistake when he turned a sure 95-yard touchdown catch into a 94-yard gain and an Eastern Kentucky touchback by dropping the ball at the one, he had a good night other than that.


Huggins-Bruce's total of 150 yards receiving was the most in school history in a single game by a true freshman. His average of 37.5 yards per catch -- most of it obviously coming on the long gain --  trails only DeVante Parker (38.3 at Pittsburgh in 2012) and Mark Clayton (38.3 vs. Oklahoma State in 1982) for the highest average per catch in a game with four or more receptions.


Before the ill-fated goal line blunder, Huggins-Bruce had shown his big-play capability by making a 40-yard catch in the third quarter.


"He is an amazing young guy who has a lot of potential, a lot of talent," Cunningham said. "But mistakes like that come from the discipline part of the game. It's good it happened against EKU and not next week. We have to stay on all our young receivers and keep them focused and motivated. These are 17-or-18-year-old guys and the might get down on themselves because of mistakes. So it is our responsibility as leaders to stay on them and keep them motivated because those guys are helpful to our team."


Huggins-Bruce stayed in the game after his error and Satterfield said Monday during his weekly press conference that he remains confident in the rookie.


"Obviously, he was hurt and disappointed," Satterfield said. "He was excited, I guess, but you have to finish the play. I've never had that happen to a player of mine in all my years of coaching. He'll learn. I thought he played a lot faster in this game compared to Ole Miss. He'll catch the football and he's got great speed. He's a playmaker. We have to continue to find ways to get him the ball while he's still learning our offense and learning what to do within the offense."


CLARK EARNS ACC HONOR--Sophomore cornerback Kei'Trel Clark was named Co-Defensive Back of the Week, sharing the honor with Pittsburgh's Brandon Hill. Clark had two interceptions and a team-high six tackles, two for loss.


UL-FSU KICKOFF SET--Kickoff for Louisville's ACC opener against Florida State (0-2) on Sept. 25 in Tallahassee, Fla., has been set for 3:30 p.m. EDT in Doak Campbell Stadium. It will be broadcast on ESPN2. UofL won last year's game 48-16. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest (2-0) on the road Saturday.


TURNER STREAK ENDS--When James Turner missed an extra point following UofL's second touchdown, it was the first misfire of his UofL career for the sophomore from Saline, Mich., snapping a string of 44 straight successful conversions.



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