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Better focus on ‘little things’ key to Louisville’s recent improvement; UK/UofL football series extended

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Coaches call it “game slippage,” meaning that players in various sports lose a certain amount of preparation and execution detail between the practice field and game day.

But for Louisville’s football team, the problem was the opposite: a number of Cardinals, too many, were letting things slip during practice week. Players were late for team meetings, weren’t paying enough attention, skipping treatment in the training room or were cutting short work in the weight room.

Not a good recipe for success and it was showing up on the field, where UofL (2-4, 1-4 ACC) lost its first four Atlantic Coast Conference games. Two of those losses were to Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, teams that appeared to have less talent than Louisville.

Javian Hawkins escapes a Florida State defender last week during Louisville’s 48-16 win. (UofL photo)

Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield and his staff have always preached concentration on even the smallest of details. But their message obviously wasn’t getting through to everyone, so they ramped up the emphasis and made it clear that more serious disciplinary measures would be applied to the culprits going forward.

Apparently, the refocusing project has worked. The Cards came within a whisker of a major upset in a 12-7 loss at No. 4 Notre Dame (5-0), then put together its best all-around game of the season in walloping Florida State 48-16 last Saturday.

They will try to keep the momentum rolling when they host Virginia Tech (3-2, 3-2) Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., ACC Network).

“Anytime you’re going through some adversity, particularly not being able to finish out games and get wins, you start looking at everything,” Satterfield said. “It always comes back to the little things on a day-to-day basis. We felt there were too many things that needed to be tightened up with certain players here or there. A lot of the little things that sometimes we take for granted, basically all the accountability type things that good teams do on a consistent basis.

“I’m not saying it was the whole team, but you have a few guys and then it permeates throught the whole team.”

Running back Javian Hawkins provided an example of the kind of accountability that Satterfield is talking about during UofL’s dominating win over Florida State.

After Hawkins fumbled on an 8-yard reception and the ball was recovered by tight end Marshon Ford, Hawkins went on to score on a 10-yard run, then during the change of possessions dropped to the turf on the sideline and did 10 pushups. That’s 15 short of what is required as punishment for a fumble, but he promised to make up the difference later.

“I couldn’t do 25 up-downs out there, so I still have to knock those out,” Hawkins said. “That’s what they preach. Just fix the mistake and get back out there.”

Hawkins added that the Cards had “laser focus” in the game. “We preached all week, do your job, and when everybody does their job look at what happens,” he said.

Now the challenge is to carry that focus through this week and into the game against Virginia Tech, which opened in Vegas as a 3-point favorite even though it has lost four of its last six road games.

“I think the amount of focus we’ve had over the last two weeks has been really good,” Satterfield said. “The guys’ eagerness to get here and want to be here. You can sense it, all those little things that give you an opportunity on Saturdays. The last few weeks there hasn’t been as many guys messing up. Our guys’ focus has been better, the consistency has been better. We are doing things that championship caliber teams are about.”

There won’t be any championships in ACC play for the Cards this season, but despite the rocky start a winning record and an invitation to a decent bowl are still within reach. To get there, however, they must win four of their last five games.

The Louisville-Kentucky Governor’s Cup rivalry will resume next season and is set to be played for the next 10 years on the final Saturday in November. (UofL photo)

“We’re all happy, but we can’t dwell on it,” quarterback Malik Cunningham said. “We have to get back to work for Virginia Tech. We have a lot at stake, so we have to bring the same energy we’ve been bringing the last two weeks, the same passion and the same focus.”

UofL-UK RIVALRY EXTENDED: After a hiatus this season necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Louisville-Kentucky Governor’s Cup football rivalry will resume next year and is set to be played for the next 10 years on the final Saturday in November.

An amendment to the contract for the series has been signed by UofL athletic director Vince Tyra and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, extending it three years through 2030.

The teams will play in Cardinal Stadium in 2021, as they were scheduled to do this November, and UofL will then continue hosting in the odd years.

The schools also agreed to delete a requirement in the previous contract that the home team pay the visiting team $300,000 each year. Now, neither team will receive compensation. Also, the contract specifies there were no financial penalties for the 2020 game being canceled “in consideration of the impact of the current worldwide pandemic on the 2020 football season.”

UofL and UK have met in football every year from 1993 to 2019, but the SEC canceled all non-conference games for its schools this season. Louisville leads the modern series 15-11, but has lost two in a row and three of the last four.

Here are the dates for future games:

Nov. 27, 2021–Louisville; Nov. 26, 2022–Lexington; Nov. 25, 2023–Louisville; Nov. 30, 2024–Lexington; Nov. 29, 2025–Louisville; Nov. 28, 2026–Lexington; Nov. 27, 2027–Louisville; Nov. 25, 2028–Lexington; Nov. 24, 2029–Louisville; Nov. 30, 2030–Lexington.

HAWKINS HONORED: Hawkins was named the ACC Running Back of the Week following his performance on Saturday against the Seminoles when he rushed 16 times for 174 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He opened the scoring for the Cards with a 9-yard run and put them ahead to stay with a 70-yard run.

Hawkins recorded the 11th 100-yard rushing game of his career, which is tied for fourth in school history. He became the first Cardinal with three rushing touchdowns in a game since Trey Smith against Wake Forest on Oct. 27, 2018. It was also his fifth 150-yard performance, tied for fifth at UofL. The redshirt sophomore moved into 13th place on the school’s all-time rushing list with 2,226 yards.

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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