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Louisville, KY – The UCF Knights (2-1) charged onto the road to battle the only Power 5 conference opponent on the 2021 schedule in the Louisville Cardinals (2-1) who repelled them in the last minute, 42-35.
Coach Malzahn mentioned earlier in the week that the Cardinals man under center, Malik Cunningham, would be a huge challenge for his defense. This proved true as Cuningham exposed UCF’s weakness in tackling and third-down defense. Louisville completed a few passes here and there in the first two quarters but looked mostly look like a “wildcat” offense.
They spread out the Knights’ defensive front by running outside to set up runs inside. This allowed the Cards to gobble up yards on virtually every snap early and earned them a 21-14 lead at halftime for Cunningham and company.
Head Coach Gus Malzahn also stated that he expected a big performance from quarterback Dillon Gabriel and his veteran offensive line going into this one. Dillon and the offense came out slinging it to open the game. The Knights field general posted 188 yards passing on 21-for-29 with three touchdowns and an interception as well as a rushing touchdown. He also hauled in six points with a 20-yard receiving score from Ryan O’Keefe on a throwback play that tied it 21-21 at the beginning of the third quarter.
UCF’s top running back, Isaiah Bowser, saw limited time with a nagging knee injury which got Johnny Richardson involved in the game. Richardson did enough to keep the Knights’ offense balanced as the leading rusher with nine carries for 101 yards.
Conversely, Cunningham starting throwing the ball more in the second half to balance Louisville’s attack. Despite dealing with cramping late in the game, the Cardinals passer went 23-for-38 with 265 yards passing with one touchdown and an interception, while also racking up 99 yards and two scores on the ground with 13 carries.
In the end, the 4th quarter was a shootout between the two teams. After trading interceptions with less than a minute on the clock, it was Gabriel throwing a pick-six to Jaylin Alderman that would decide the game for the Cardinals. Louisville came away victorious playing in their third contest in 12 days.
In addition to Bowser, Gabriel also suffered a broken clavicle on the last play of the game. In the postgame press conference, Coach Malzahn spoke on his quarterback’s tenacity:
“He’s a great competitor. He’s a great player and he competed to the last play.”
Nonetheless, the Knights will begin play in the American Athletic Conference with hopes to leave for the Big XII on a high note with a conference championship. This could mean that the 3:30 pm EST game after the upcoming bye week at Annapolis against Navy could be one of the last ones for a long time against the Midshipmen.