3 takeaways: Louisville football makes it look easy for once in win over South Florida

Malik Cunningham was trying to get back to the sidelines after a touchdown run Saturday afternoon when he got tripped up.

Louisville’s quarterback got his foot caught in the netting behind the goalposts and struggled for a second before being freed.

The net was one of few things that stopped Cunningham, who led the team’s rushing attack and scored three first-half touchdowns en route to Louisville’s 41-3 win over South Florida at Cardinal Stadium.

It was the most complete effort from U of L through an up-and-down start to the season. Cunningham finished with 299 total yards. The run game saw four players with eight or more carries, 40-plus yards and a combined four touchdowns. And the defense silenced a dangerous USF offense in its best performance of the season.

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Here are three takeaways from the Week 4 victory:

Malik, rinse and repeat

Louisville’s Malik Cunningham celebrates his touchdown against USF’s Antonio Grier Jr. Sept. 24, 2022
Louisville’s Malik Cunningham celebrates his touchdown against USF’s Antonio Grier Jr. Sept. 24, 2022

Cunningham has had spectacular performances before, but Saturday’s contest was the first time in his career he recorded three touchdowns in a half. It’s also his first three-touchdown game since last year’s 28-14 win over Boston College, the Cardinals’ next opponent.

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The three TDs were part of a first half where the Cardinals (2-2, 0-2 ACC) scored on half of their first eight series. Meanwhile, Cunningham had 100 yards passing and 106 rushing yards after two quarters.

The redshirt senior became the eighth player in NCAA history to total 8,000 passing and 3,000 rushing yards. The rushing yardage also makes him the third player in Louisville history to reach the feat along with Lamar Jackson (2015-17) and Walter Peacock (1972-75). Jackson is the all-time leader with 4,132 while Peacock totaled 3,204 during his time as a Cardinal.

Cunningham finished the game by connecting on 63.6% (14 of 22) of his passes for 186 yards and 113 yards on nine carries for an average of 12.6 yards per tote.

Cardinals use all their weapons

Louisville’s Trevion Cooley, left, celebrates his touchdown with Jaelin Carter before it was ruled out at the 1 yard line against USF.  Sept. 24, 2022
Louisville’s Trevion Cooley, left, celebrates his touchdown with Jaelin Carter before it was ruled out at the 1 yard line against USF. Sept. 24, 2022

Louisville lost depth at the one position where it desperately needed it when the team announced wide receiver Dee Wiggins required season-ending surgery on his toe this week.

Central Arkansas transfer Tyler Hudson added to his strong start to his Cardinals' debut with three catches and 53 yards And Ahmari Huggins-Bruce led all receivers with five grabs and 56 yards.

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The Cardinals also utilized their running backs in the passing game. Tiyon Evans, who was back this week after a hamstring injury sidelined him a week ago, Trevion Cooley and Jawhar Jordan all recorded at least one catch against USF. It’s the second week Cooley has been involved as a pass catcher after recording both a receiving and rushing TD in the loss to Florida State.

In addition to the running backs, Louisville got a big play early on from Jaelin Carter, who was just put on scholarship prior to the season. The Manual High School product caught his first career TD pass at Louisville by diving for a 26-yard dime from Cunningham at the 3:39 mark of the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.

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Defense nearly pitches shutout

Louisville’s YaYa Diaby celebrates his sack against USF. Sept. 24, 2022
Louisville’s YaYa Diaby celebrates his sack against USF. Sept. 24, 2022

Louisville’s defense was 14 minutes, 55 seconds away from its first shutout since a 30-0 victory over Syracuse in 2020. The feat was spoiled by a 37-yard field goal from Spencer Shrader at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Overall, though, the Cardinals kept USF in check and held the Bulls to a season-low 158 yards of total offense. It was easily U of L’s best performance on that half of the ball this season. The Bulls entered the Week 4 contest averaging 204 rushing yards per outing but ended Saturday with 48. U of L hadn't allowed less than 150 yards rushing in a game prior to Saturday.

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Louisville’s success came from its pass rush and run-defense penetration. The Cardinals had no problem getting into the backfield and had nine tackles for loss. Dorian Jones and Yaya Diaby, who added a sack, led the effort with two tackles for loss apiece for five and four total tackles, respectively. The sack is Diaby’s fourth this season, a career high after he recorded 1.5 in 2021.

Chandler Jones and Josh Minkins each chipped in an interception. The Cardinals forced three three-and-outs to go along with the two interceptions and Dorian Jones’s fumble recovery, which made up USF’s first-half drives.

USF benched quarterback Gerry Bohanon and turned to sophomore Katravis Marsh at the 8:53 mark of the third quarter. The Cardinals didn't relent and held Marsh to 4 of 11 passing. USF quarterbacks finished 13 of 28 with two interceptions, three sacks and 110 yards.

The 158 total yards were the fewest U of L has allowed this season.

Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at acubit@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville football vs. USF: 3 takeaways from comfortable win