Failed crunch time execution has kept Louisville from breakthrough season
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Failed crunch time execution has kept Louisville from breakthrough season

Article written by:Adam LuckettAdam Luckett

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Malik Cunningham
(Photo courtesy of Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Louisville is the best 6-5 team in college football. That is not meant to be a classic KSR rivalry shot.

The Cardinals are up to No. 31 overall in ESPN’s SP+ rankings and outscored their last two ACC opponents by a count of 103-25. Dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham might be the hottest player in college football, and a solid but not great defense is doing just enough.

Despite all that, the Cards left a ton of wins on the table this season.

Dreadful fourth quarters

After getting blitzed by Ole Miss and handling their business against EKU, UofL entered a Friday night game against UCF with a ton on the line. The Cardinals needed a win in the worst way.

The team responded by putting its best effort together.

Louisville got off to a fast start as Cunningham went for 364 total yards and the Cards held a lead entering the fourth quarter. However, UCF would score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Knights were in position for a last-minute field goal attempt to win the game following a rare Malik Cunningham interception.

However, the defense would bail Louisville out with a wild pick-six, but that near fourth-quarter meltdown would be a sign of things to come for this team throughout the season.

Against Virginia, the Cards blew a 30-13 lead in the final quarter as they were outscored 21-3 in the last 15 minutes. When playing NC State on the road, the Wolfpack blitzed Louisville with a 21-3 final quarter to turn a deficit into a double-digit win. In the biggest game of the season, Clemson blanked Louisville and won the final quarter 13-0.

Satterfield’s team could’ve easily won any of these games. The Cards didn’t because the final quarter let them down. For the season, opponents are outscoring Louisville 109-78 in the final quarter.

The last 15 minutes have prevented Louisville from having a breakthrough season.

Situational failures

In his first season, Scott Satterfield brought home ACC coach of the year honors as he took a 2-10 team to 8-5 with a Music City Bowl victory in year one. The Cards were bad on defense, but offensive fireworks allowed Louisville to win some games.

UofL accomplished that by being very good in close games. The Cardinals finished the 2019 season with a 3-0 record in one-possession games. Meanwhile, every loss came by at least 11 points with four defeats coming by at least 18 points with major blowouts against Clemson, Miami, and Kentucky.

The blowouts have mostly gone away the last two seasons, but the close game success has all but disappeared.

Louisville was 0-4 in one-possession games during the COVID-19 season and that led to a 4-7 overall record. The lack of close game success has leaked into this season.

After some second-half letdowns turned double-digit victories against UCF and Florida State into close wins, Louisville has gone winless in the last part of the schedule in close games. Late flurries by Virginia and Clemson handed Louisville two home losses. On the road, the Cards came up just short against Wake Forest.

Meanwhile, Kentucky continues to win close games under Mark Stoops. Since 2016, the Wildcats are 19-9 in one-possession games with a 4-1 mark this season. Even in the loss to Tennessee, the Wildcats had the ball inside the Vols’ 40 with a chance to win.

In the fourth quarter this season, Kentucky is outscoring its foes 89-59. The Wildcats have played some of their best football in the fourth quarter.

That could mean a lot on Saturday night.

Will a close game appear?

Currently, Louisville is a 3-point favorite out in the desert. However, close games haven’t always happened in this rivalry. Since the renewal, there have been 26 overall meetings, and only 11 have been decided by one possession. In those 11 games, Kentucky owns a 6-5 record.

Based on recent performances, the Wildcats appear to have an advantage if this year’s version of the Governor’s Cup gets tight in the fourth quarter.

Mark Stoops and Kentucky are looking to make Louisville the best 6-6 team in college football.

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2021-12-01