A unique Labor Day college football game pitted the Louisville Cardinals against the Miami (Florida) Hurricanes. After the Cardinals beat Miami 36-9 in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hurricanes were again dominated on Monday, 31-13, at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Beating Louisville at home with coach Bobby Petrino at the helm is a tall task, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
Both teams were starting freshman quarterbacks—Louisville's redshirt signal-caller Will Gardner and Miami's true first-year passer Brad Kaaya. Gardner was without his No. 1 receiving target in DeVante Parker, yet he showed superior poise and was more proficient than his overwhelmed counterpart.
Gardner, who went 20-of-28 for 206 yards with two touchdowns, also had the benefit of a superior running game, courtesy of Dominique Brown's 143 yards on 33 carries.
The Cardinals shut down Miami running back Duke Johnson for the most part. Johnson is one of the most explosive playmakers in college football, yet he had little room to run versus Louisville's front seven. He amassed just 69 yards on his first 19 carries—and that included a 24-yard scamper.
Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel lamented the tactics deployed by Miami's coaching staff:
Johnson didn't get going until the fourth quarter after the Hurricanes turned it over on downs, following a decent drive into Louisville territory. This included a long reception from Johnson negated by a penalty.
Former Louisville safety and current New York Jet Calvin Pryor was attuned to what the talented Johnson was doing:
The big momentum changer came earlier on special teams, when Louisville's Corvin Lamb took a kickoff 97 yards to the house with 4:37 remaining in the first half. It came just after Kaaya's best drive of the night—a nine-play, 88-yard jaunt that ended in three points and a 10-7 Hurricanes lead.
Then Miami found itself suddenly down and dejected from Lamb's playmaking in the return game. Adding insult to injury, Lamb was a product of the opposition's stomping grounds.
ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson supplied this keen bit of information:
As was the case in their last encounter with the Cardinals, the Hurricanes were unable to convert third-down opportunities. Miami missed in all 11 third-down situations in the Russell Athletic Bowl and missed on its first nine Monday evening.
Kaaya finally came through with a completion late in the third quarter, but it offered little consolation after such a terrible stretch of execution. On the very next play, a bad Kaaya throw was well behind his intended target and picked off by James Sample.
Maybe this is some consolation for Hurricanes fans from ESPN's Colin Cowherd:
An inauspicious three-and-out to start the game preceded Gardner's exceptional first touchdown drive in place of departed star QB Teddy Bridgewater. Gardner completed all five passes on the march, hitting freshman tight end Charles Standberry for a two-yard TD strike.
Although Kaaya would respond with a two-yard scoring toss of his own in the second quarter, he was badly outplayed by Gardner otherwise, posting a final line of 17-of-29 passing for 174 yards and two interceptions.
Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN empathized with Kaaya:
That doesn't mean the Hurricanes couldn't have found a way to claw back into the game, though. A couple of gift-wrapped turnovers generated chances to score. They just weren't taken advantage of.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead was critical of how Miami squandered golden opportunities to capitalize on turnovers with little ground to cover before paydirt:
Brown wore down the Hurricanes defense throughout, and when he scored a 15-yard TD to extend the lead to 21-13 late in the third, CardinalSports.com's Howie Lindsey compared Brown favorably to another physical Cardinals ball-carrier:
On Gardner's second TD pass of the night, Brown threw a great block after the play-action fake, as Gerald Christian hauled in the 10-yard strike with just 1:43 left in the game.
Petrino's return to the Louisville sidelines went smoothly enough, and he was excited to get the year underway with a high-profile game off the bat.
"I've always enjoyed opening with a game that had a lot at stake," said Petrino, per The Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer. "It really helps you in the offseason. It helps you with your motivation in the winter and getting up early for your workouts. It's a great opening for us. Our players are excited about it."
Louisville Football noted just how much fanfare followed the Cardinals to Monday's game:
This reaction from the New York Post's Brian Costello summarizes the probable sentiments in South Beach:
Hurricanes coach Al Golden was bold to start the untested Kaaya over fifth-year senior Jake Heaps. Based on how bad the offense looked Monday, perhaps Golden will turn to the more seasoned signal-caller in Heaps before handing the keys to Kaaya for good.
This is a momentous victory for Louisville against a traditionally quality opponent. The Cardinals needed a positive start to their inaugural season in the ACC, and they got it. In the process, they saw their young QB, Gardner, overcome the loss of his best receiver.
It was enough to suggest Louisville's offense can survive without Parker for the time being.
It will be interesting to see whether Miami keeps Kaaya in for what could be a confidence booster at home against Florida A&M. Meanwhile, Louisville remains at home and will improve to 2-0 versus Murray State on Saturday, barring an unbelievable upset.