Louisville capped off Scott Satterfield's first season with a 38-28 victory over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl on Monday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Cardinals prevailed despite losing fourth-leading tackler Dorian Etheridge, who was ejected in the second quarter for kicking at Bulldogs tight end Geor'quarius Spivey.
Louisville erased a 14-point second-quarter deficit, scoring 31 unanswered points.
Mississippi State already committed to head coach Joe Moorhead for 2020, but throwing away a double-digit lead en route to finishing with a losing record is likely to ramp up the pressure on Moorhead as he approaches his third year in charge.
- Micale Cunningham, QB, Louisville: 16-of-23, 279 yards, two touchdowns; 16 carries, 81 yards
- Javian Hawkins, RB, Louisville: 23 carries, 105 yards, one touchdown
- Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville: nine receptions, 147 yards
- Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State: 17-of-26, 221 yards, two touchdowns; 17 carries, 71 yards, one touchdown
- Nick Gibson, RB, Mississippi State: eight carries, 54 yards, one touchdown
- Stephen Guidry, WR, Mississippi State: six receptions, 76 yards, one touchdown
Louisville Rides Dominant Second Half to Victory
Louisville began crawling out of its early hole as a 33-yard touchdown reception for Marshon Ford and a 31-yard field goal by Ryan Chalifoux made it a four-point game heading into halftime.
Sensing a need to ignite his offense, Satterfield relied on a bit of gadgetry to set up the Cardinals' first score. On a day he set a single-season school record for receiving yards, Tutu Atwell showed off his arm by finding Ford wide open down the sideline.
In the space of just over two minutes in the third quarter, Louisville not only took the lead but also gained firm control of the game.
Micale Cunningham hit Devante Peete on a 24-yard touchdown pass at the 5:01 mark. Then Khane Pass returned a Tommy Stevens fumble 31 yards for a score to help put the Cardinals ahead 24-14.
The wheels fell off rather quickly for Bobby Petrino. Lamar Jackson was a Heisman Trophy winner in 2016, a year when Louisville started 9-2 and climbed as high as No. 3 in the Associated Press' Top 25 poll. Less than two seasons later, Petrino was out of a job as the team won two games.
The Music City Bowl was an example of how much Satterfield has done already to get the Cardinals in the right direction:
Clemson is poised to dominate the ACC again in 2020, but the Tigers could have some competition in the Atlantic Division if Louisville can take another step forward.
Tommy Stevens Struggles in Return to Starting Role
Stevens had less than a week to prepare for replacing Garrett Shrader as the starting quarterback after Shrader suffered a broken orbital bone in the lead-up to Monday's game.
Stevens hadn't played since the Bulldogs' win over Abilene Christian on Nov. 23, and his rust showed, as he was unable to find a groove until Louisville had built a sizable second-half lead.
The graduate transfer did his best work on the ground, finishing as Mississippi State's leading rusher.
Stevens' performance encapsulated what went wrong for the Bulldogs. Neither he nor Shrader excelled under center, and the offense struggled as a result despite Moorhead building his reputation as a strong offensive play-caller.
While it might be a stretch to say Moorhead is on the hot seat, his critics will point to the defeat as another example of how Mississippi State is going backward under his watch.
Shrader will be back and should be better with a full season under his belt. Keytaon Thompson is still on the roster too but already entered the transfer portal once before rejoining the team.
Although Mississippi State is obviously at a disadvantage by playing in the same division as Alabama, Auburn and LSU, Dan Mullen showed the program can be a regular winner.
Mullen also raised the expectations around the team, which Moorhead now has to answer for. Dropping a second straight bowl game while losing more games is a recipe to put Moorhead under the microscope next year.