Saturday, September 2, 2017

No. 16 Louisville 35, Purdue 28: Defense reigns supreme for the Cardinals

                                                        Photo Credit: Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The main storyline coming into Saturday’s game was how Purdue’s defense could come up with various ways of containing Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.

Instead, the Louisville (1-0) defense made the difference in a 35-28 win over Purdue (0-1)— highlighted by a fourth quarter interception by safety Chucky Williams as he fell out of bounds, while he kept a foot inbounds.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believed Williams' pick ended any momentum Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar had going when he came back a second time for starter David Blough.

"[Chucky] did a great job and had the deep path when he saw the quarterback's shoulder close and broke hard on the ball," Petrino said. "That's where his experience [as a senior] paid off. They tried to isolate the corner and the receiver six yards out, which is something that a lot of teams will do against us."

Linebacker Stacy Thomas also made an impact with a 61-yard interception for a touchdown off Blough to put Louisville ahead 25-21 near the halfway point of the third quarter.

Cardinals wide receiver Jaylen Smith credited Thomas for the interception and the momentum provided afterwards.

“That’s a huge boost for us on offense and put us in a good position,” Smith said.

Pertino felt grateful to have a player like Thomas on the field, who can make critical plays in big situations.

"Stacy's a really good football player and we are really happy to have him out there," Petrino said. "[Stacy] understands what offenses are trying to do and is a terrific pass coverage guy."

The Louisville defense made critical plays in the trenches as it finished with seven tackles for loss, compared to Purdue's one.

On offense, Jackson’s skills were on full display as he finished with 30-of-46 for 378 yards, to go along with 107 yards on the ground and two touchdowns through the air. To put the icing on the cake, Jackson's 481 yards of total offense was the sixth-highest output in Louisville history.

Seth Dawkins’ 43-yard kickoff return to start the game gave the UL offense the spark it needed for another powerful start. Things looked to appear normal as Louisville drove down to the Purdue one-yard line, but a botched snap from Jackson led to a fumble recovery from linebacker Danny Ezechukwu for 32 yards, as he dragged the star quarterback for most of the play to the Purdue 37.

Both teams would exchange three and outs on their respective possessions as Purdue would get the ball at the Louisville 36 and took advantage as Sindelar connected with Jackson Anthrop on the post route for a 26-yard touchdown reception to give an early boost at 7-0.

Anthrop proved to be Purdue's top option on offense with seven receptions for a team-high 82 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinals faced early adversity and Jackson responded with a vintage drive where he used his footwork to extend two plays, which led to receptions combined for 36 yards. Jackson finished the drive out with a rollout pass to an open Jordan Davis to even the score at 7-7 at the 3:39 mark.

Despite Jackson being stopped on third down in Purdue’s red zone, Blanton Creque delivered a 23-yard field goal to put UL up 10-7.

After a Markell Jones fumble on Purdue’s kickoff and recovery from Thomas to put Louisville in prime position in the red zone at the 15-yard line. Louisville squandered the opportunity as Jeremy Smith fumbled at the goal line and linebacker Markus Bailey recovered the ball and tackled at its own 20.

Louisville’s defense took a big hit as preseason All-American cornerback and return man Jaire Alexander went down with a leg injury late in the first half on special teams and would not return to the game, but is expected to be okay, according to Petrino.

“Everyone was shocked about it, but a really unbelievable play when we work on it,” Petrino said. “I don’t know what triggered him to run after all. A strange and terrible way to get hurt.”

Purdue’s quarterback musical chairs revved up in the process as Blough entered at the 10:42 mark of the second quarter. Blough changed the tempo of the offense as players began to find looks on the ground and in the air— highlighted by an eight-yard touchdown reception to Richie Worship to put the Boilermakers up 14-10 with 51 seconds left in the first half and took the lead to the locker room.

Louisville’s fumble woes bled into the third quarter as Smith fumbled as Purdue recovered scored on its next possession on a Blough rollout pass to Brycen Hopkins from two yards out.

Down 21-13, Louisville needed to find a second wind on offense and received one via Reggie Bonnafon on a seven-yard touchdown on a running back toss play, but Jackson’s failed two-point conversion kept Purdue ahead with 5:29 left in the third quarter.

Purdue looked to be on its way to answering, but Stacy Thomas stalked Blough’s pass and took the ball the other way for a 61-yard interception for a touchdown.

Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm changed the script as Sindelar re-entered the game and paid dividends as he connected with Anthrop for the second time on the night with a 14-yard touchdown pass. Checkers began to turn into chess as Purdue and Louisville exchanged their best shots with plenty of time to spare in the fourth quarter.

Jackson and Dez Fitzpatrick found chemistry on the Cardinals’ next drive as they connected for receptions of 39 and 20— the latter a touchdown as the Boilermakers found themselves once more on the wrong end of the scoreboard at 32-28. Fitzpatrick finished with four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in his Cardinal debut.

Creque’s 30-yard field goal put Louisville up 35-28 as Purdue found itself on a journey to go 96 yards with 4:18 left in regulation, but failed on its last two drives to muster any points.

Looking Ahead:

The Cardinals open up Atlantic Coast Conference play on Sept. 9 as they travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels, while the night before, the Boilermakers look to bounce back in their home opener against the Ohio Bobcats.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.