Oct. 7, 2006
NASHVILLE (AP) -Mario Urrutia's advice to Hunter Cantwell was simple.
"I'm 6-6, so just throw it up and give me a chance," Urrutia told the Louisville quarterback.
After his 134-yard, two-touchdown performance in No. 8 Louisville's 44-17 win Middle Tennessee on Friday night, Urrutia won't have to tell Cantwell twice.
Urrutia's highlight reel touchdowns gave the Cardinals the spark they needed in a tougher-than-expected victory as Louisville improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1993.
Cantwell finished with a career-high 340 yards and three touchdowns, and showed some poise after the Blue Raiders rattled him early.
"Hunter got better in the game, I think that's one thing that will really help us down the road," said coach Bobby Petrino. "He started throwing the ball well (and) Mario Urrutia gave us a big lift. Not only with the plays he made, the big catches and the touchdowns, but the energy and his leadership and his emotion."
The Blue Raiders (3-3) dropped to 0-11 against ranked opponents, but made the Cardinals work for the win.
Middle Tennessee led 10-3 after an 88-yard kickoff return by Damon Nickson and Colby Smith's 23-yard field goal.
The seven-point deficit matched Louisville's largest of the season. Middle Tennessee's lead almost grew to 10 points late in the first quarter, but Smith's 47-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright.
That seemed to wake up the Cardinals, who tied the game two plays later when Urrutia caught a quick slant from Cantwell and turned it into a 68-yard touchdown.
"I definitely think people underestimate my speed, but once they get on the field, they find out," Urrutia said.
Two field goals by Art Carmody pushed Louisville's lead to 16-10 before Urrutia and Cantwell hooked up again on a beautiful 25-yard touchdown with just eight seconds left in the half. Cantwell threw the ball to the left corner of the end zone, and the 6-foot-6 Urrutia outjumped two Blue Raiders for the score.
"You can get away with things that you normally can't with other receivers because of Mario's height, his speed and the stride that he has," Cantwell said. "He just brings that all to the table."
The game was played at LP Field, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans, as part of a three-game series between the two schools. The crowd of 32,797 was a record for a Middle Tennessee home game, thanks to thousands of Louisville fans making the three-hour trip to Nashville.
Even with all the red in the stands, it took awhile for the Cardinals to feel at home, as the Blue Raiders contained Louisville's running game early and pressured Cantwell into an erratic opening quarter.
At one point he missed five straight passes and fell awkwardly on his left knee after being hit while throwing. Cantwell slowly pulled himself up and walked to the sideline.
"My knee bent really weird, and I was like, 'Oh no, this is not good,"' Cantwell said. "It was sore for a little bit, but I got back up on it and it was fine."
That was good news for the Cardinals, who are already playing without starting quarterback Brian Brohm. He injured his right (throwing) hand in the win over Miami on Sept. 16.
Cantwell eventually got on track, and the Louisville defense made sure Middle Tennessee wouldn't capitalize on a rare national television appearance. The Blue Raiders managed just 263 yards of total offense.
"What are we, the 100th team in the country and they're the No. 8 team in the country?" Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. "I'm disappointed, but I thought our guys fought their tails off."
Middle Tennessee quarterback Clint Marks completed 17 of 33 passes for 167 yards and a late touchdown, but had trouble generating offense when the Blue Raiders moved into Louisville territory.
Nickson finished with a school-record 187 yards on kickoff returns and added an interception, but the Blue Raiders converted just six of 17 third-down attempts and had no answer for Louisville's high-powered attack.
Despite rolling up 526 yards of offense, Petrino said there's room for improvement. The running game sputtered until freshman Anthony Allen gave it a kick-start in the second half, rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. And the offense had to settle for field goals three times after moving deep into Middle Tennessee territory.
"We're running the ball sometimes to spots we're not supposed to," Petrino said. "The quarterback has a lot of responsibility in our running game and he did improve as the game went on. ... There's no question we have a lot of things to work on."