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Western Kentucky shows improvement, but falls to Louisville 20-17

The Tops built an early lead and ran the ball well, but couldn’t close it out against the in-state rival.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

A week after blowing a 21-0 lead in a loss to Maine, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers went north to face the Louisville Cardinals in a game many thought would be an easy win for the Cards. That’s not quite how it ended up going down, but the night still ended in disappointment once again for Mike Sanford and company.

In the first quarter, WKU benched starting quarterback Steven Duncan after just two series where the Tops threw an interception and punted. Redshirt freshman Davis Shanley then took the reigns and drove the Tops 80 yards in 16 plays to score with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Fourtenbary.

The WKU lead became 14-0 on their next possession. After taking over on downs inside Louisville territory, WKU needed just two plays to run it in.

Louisville’s Blanton Creque would get a field goal in just before the end of the half to make it 14-3.

The Cards were also not happy with the performance of their starting quarterback Jawon Pass and quickly replaced him with Malik Cunningham in the first half. In Pass’ defense, several of his plays were inexcusable drops by his receivers.

U of L’s offense started clicking in the second half though as a pair of big runs by Dae Williams and some scrambling by Cunningham got the Cards close enough for another field goal on their first possession of the third quarter.

The ensuing Tops possession was arguably their most frustrating of the game. WKU drove all the way down to Louisville’s five yard line, then Shanley took a sack to lose ten yards on a third and goal. Ryan Nuss would attempt a 32-yard field goal, but it would be blocked and roll all the way back to WKU’s 31.

Louisville capitalized on that a few minutes later with a one-yard TD run by Dae Williams to cut the lead to one point. WKU followed that up with a long 14-play drive to go 68 yards, but only came away with a field goal. Louisville would take the lead on the next possession with a 75-yard touchdown drive that would be helped along by a personal foul call on Drell Greene.

WKU’s offense stalled out on the next possession, but the defense came up big and forced Louisville’s offense to do the same on their final possession of the game. With 16 seconds left, WKU executed a hook and latter with Quin Jernighan pitching to Lucky Jackson who went out of bounds with one second remaining.

Nuss came out to attempt a 51-yarder to tie the game, but it went wide right despite having just enough distance.

Overall, there’s plenty of positive to take here. For one, WKU outperformed an ACC team in terms of offensive yardage 428-292. A big part of that was thanks to the rushing attack, which looked better than it ever has since Sanford took over. Credit goes to the offensive line and running backs for that, but the dual-threat capabilities of Davis Shanley also helped.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Shanley finished the day with 32 rushing yards (8 net, because of sacks) and a rushing TD on top of being 22/33 through the air for 240 yards and a passing touchdown. With Drew Eckels being hurt and his running ability not being that of Shanley’s, this should make the quarterback spot more interesting moving forward.

Special teams miscues continue to be a big problem for the Tops with missed and blocked kicks. It’s been a really tough few weeks for Nuss, who had the game tying kick blocked against Maine in the final seconds last week.

Defensively, the Tops were put in some tough spots and you can’t be too upset with how they performed. Lineman DeAngelo Malone had a great interception early in the game and, frankly, the Tops should have had a second thanks to a fantastic play in the end zone by Devon Key.

The biggest takeaway here is just as Mike Sanford said: he and his team need to find a way to finish games with this being the second week in a row that the Tops blew a lead.

Their next chance to put a team away will be on September 22nd against Ball State in Muncie.