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Louisville Blows Out Duke, 66-22

Another ugly outing for Duke football.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Duke
Nov 18, 2021; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils safety Jaylen Stinson (16) runs with the ball during the 2nd half of the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville mauled Duke 62-22 Thursday night on national television in front of an almost empty Wallace Wade Stadium.

It was not a pretty sight.

“Nothing turned out really the way you wanted it to turn out,” David Cutcliffe said and that was an understatement of considerable proportions.

Duke was competitive for a portion of the first half but the same problems that have held back Duke most of the season held them back against the Cardinals.

But the biggest problem was Duke’s almost complete inability to even slow down Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, who largely did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted against a Duke defense that couldn’t tackle, cover, pressure, force turnovers or get off the field in any context other than allowing a touchdown.

The loss dropped Duke to 3-8 overall and 0-7 in the ACC, with only next week’s season finale against Miami giving Duke a chance to notch an ACC win and end Duke’s 12-game ACC losing streak.

Cutcliffe said Duke’s failures against Cunningham weren’t schematic.

“We just didn’t match him up. We blitzed him, he escaped the blitz. We had people free. He did a good job of zone-read type things. But he is so strong, so elusive. We didn’t tackle him well enough. We had him stopped for lesser gains that turned into big plays, big touchdowns. The bottom line is, we just didn’t get the job done.”

The opening drive was a microcosm of so much that has gone wrong in this lost season. Louisville got the ball first and took over at their 15. They fumbled, had a 15-yard personal foul and faced 2nd and 14, 3rd and 13, 4th and 1, and 2nd and 24. But they recovered the fumble, shrugged off the penalty and scored on that 2nd and 24, a 48-yard pass from Cunningham to a basically uncovered Trevion Cooley, a running back out of the backfield.

Duke answered with the first of Charlie Ham’s three field goals but only after having a first and goal at the seven, another of a long line of red-zone woes that have plagued the team during ACC play.

“We preach getting tougher, putting your foot on the gas, as you move down the field,” receiver Jake Bobo said. “To be honest, if anybody had the answer, we would have put those two in the end zone early and that would have changed the dynamic of the game. I’d give you an answer if I had one. But I don’t think anyone does, unfortunately.”

It got interesting, for a brief span. Down 7-3, Duke forced Louisville’s only punt and Isaiah Fisher-Smith blocked it.

Duke took over at the Louisville 41.

The drive ended three plays later when Gunnar Holmberg threw an interception.

Then it was 14-3 and then it was 21-3.

That third Louisville TD perhaps reflected the visitors’ dominance more than any other play.

The Cardinals faced a 3rd and 14 at the Duke 44. They called a quarterback draw for Cunningham, who waltzed into the end zone with barely a hint of protest from the Duke defense.

Or maybe it was the next possession, when Cunningham went 72 yards for a score.

Duke did put together some offense later in the half but elected to kick short field goals down 21-3 and 35-6.

It was 35-9 at the half. Cunningham had 367 yards total offense, 189 passing yards and 178 rushing yards in the opening 30 minutes.

They played the second half because they had to. True freshman quarterback Riley Leonard sparked Duke to a couple of touchdown drives, Porter Wilson successfully executed a fake-punt—Duke came up empty nonetheless—and Jalon Calhoun scored on a neat end around from five yards out.

But until the final kneel down Louisville got it into the end zone on every second-half possession, the drives taking six, four, five and six plays. Duke never threatened Louisville’s dominance, not after that early blocked punt anyway.

Cunningham ended with 303 yards passing and 224 yards rushing. He averaged 12.1 yards per completion, 20.4 yards per carry for an offense that had no turnovers and a single punt.

No one could honestly say they were surprised by this; maybe giving up 62 points but not another one-sided setback. The loss was Duke’s 22nd in its last 28 games, 20th in its last 22 ACC games. Since that late-game collapse against Georgia Tech, Duke has allowed 48, 45, 54, 43 and now 62 points. Duke has allowed at least 30 points in each of its last eight games.

Cutcliffe used the word “horrific” in the post-game and that seems an accurate summary.

Bobo had a great game, nine catches for 102 yards, many of the catches in hand-to-hand combat with the Louisville secondary. He’s a senior, with one college game left and he’s not going down without a fight.

He’s also a captain and is going to try, desperately try to bring his teammates with him.

“You can’t beat toughness into somebody. That’s not saying these guys aren’t tough; these young guys scratch and claw. I’ve been very proud of that group. I think the message right now is ‘it will get better.’ Do not be okay with this. This is not this program, this is not a reflection of this team. So, don’t accept where we’re at right now. Fight your tail off to get up and get off the ground and know that this program is more than what we’re showing right now.”