LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Malik Cunningham threw for a touchdown and ran for another to lift host Louisville to a convincing 30-0 victory over Syracuse University on Friday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Cunningham completed 19 of 28 passes for 219 yards with a pair of interceptions for the Cardinals (3-6 overall, 2-6 ACC), who controlled the contest despite committing three turnovers in the first half.
Louisville finished with a pronounced edge in total yards (413-137), first downs (26-7) and time of possession (41 1/2 of the game’s 60 minutes).
The Cardinals’ Braden Smith recorded team highs in catches (seven) and receiving yards (65) and Tutu Atwell had a touchdown grab to send Syracuse (1-8, 1-7) to its sixth consecutive loss.
Syracuse was shut out for the second time in head coach Dino Babers’ five-year tenure, and the first since 2016 in a 54-0 loss at Clemson.
Syracuse will host North Carolina State (5-3) at a time to be determined next Saturday at the Carrier Dome then finish the season Dec. 5 at second-ranked Notre Dame (8-0). The team is trying to avoid its first one-win season since 2005.
The Orange finished 0-for-9 on third downs and entered the game with the second-worst conversion rate in the FBS behind Kansas.
“We’re turning the ball over, we’re not converting on third downs, those guys got twice as many plays as us, our defense was out there twice as many times,” Babers said. “It gets to be disappointing ... extremely frustrating.”
Freshman Jalen Mitchell rushed for a touchdown in the first game since fellow Louisville running back Javian Hawkins announced that he was opting out of the remainder of the season in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft. Hawkins had ranked third in the ACC with 822 yards rushing.
Syracuse freshman JaCobian Morgan completed 5 of 12 passes for 40 yards with an interception before sustaining an apparent head/neck injury in the third quarter. Morgan was hurt while being sacked by Yasir Abdullah. He was checked for a head injury on the sideline and did not return.
James Turner converted field-goal attempts from a career-long 50 and 40 yards out to stake Louisville to an early 6-0 lead.
The Cardinals forced a turnover on the kickoff following the second field goal, with Ean Pfeifer recovering a fumble after Marlon Character stripped the ball from Nykeim Johnson. Mitchell capped a six-play, 31-yard drive by rushing up the middle from 2 yards out for his first career touchdown.
Cunningham scooted into the end zone from 4 yards out on the next possession to push Louisville’s advantage to 20-0 just before halftime. Cunningham’s rushing touchdown was his sixth of the season and the 17th of his career.
Cunningham completed an 11-play, 70-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Atwell in the third quarter. Atwell’s touchdown reception was the 20th of his career.
Turner added a 33-yard field goal to cap the scoring in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Sean Tucker gained 93 yards on 16 carries to provide the lone bright spot on offense for the Orange.
“There’s no doubt that Sean is really showing off and he’s doing a nice job in a really difficult situation,” Babers said.
Syracuse started a program-record six freshmen on defense after setting an all-time team high with five last week, continuing to navigate a myriad of absences due to injuries and player opt-outs.
“If you watched us in the beginning of the year, we’ve shown what we can do, and it’s almost like each week, we’ve taken a hit,” SU junior cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu said. “We know what we can do at times.”