LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The first quarter alone seemed destined to last as long as a full game thanks to three weather delays, and their effect was evident on a Louisville squad that appeared to be treading water in many phases.
A quick personnel change helped the waterlogged Cardinals regain their focus in time to end a long night on a high note.
Backup quarterback Malik Cunningham accounted for two touchdowns, right tackle Mekhi Becton rushed for a 1-yard TD and Louisville finished strong for a 31-7, rain-delayed victory over Indiana State on Saturday night.
Out of sync offensively for most of a soggy game that featured three first-quarter lightning delays totaling 2 hours, 33 minutes, the Cardinals (1-1) finally found their rhythm late in the third quarter after Cunningham replaced struggling Jawon Pass. The redshirt freshman's 1-yard TD run capped an 11-play, 83-yard drive before the 6-foot-7, 355-pound Becton leaped over the pile early in the fourth quarter to make it 21-7.
"I feel like I did good," said Cunningham, who added that he doesn't expect to replace Pass as the starter. "There are some things I can correct on some mistakes I made and move on from it."
Cunningham followed Blanton Creque's 43-yard field goal with a 34-yard TD pass to Jaylen Smith to help Louisville overcome last week's blowout loss to No. 1 Alabama and christen Cardinal Stadium following a $63 million makeover. Rodjay Burns returned a punt 55 yards for a TD before the first lengthy delay, which the Sycamores followed with the tying touchdown.
"It wasn't a very good game tonight for us except for one thing: we got the win," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We learned a lot from it as far as the ability to focus and concentrate and fight through distractions. I thought we did a really bad job of coming back out the first time and weren't as focused as we needed to be and let them get points on the board."
The five-hour, 35-minute contest was Louisville's longest in program history, topping its previous record of 4:46 against rival Kentucky in 2000.
Titus McCoy's 2-yard TD run after Jonas Griffith's interception provided the lone score for FCS Indiana State (1-1), which sought to follow up its 49-0 rout of NCAA Division II Quincy that ended a 14-game losing streak. Ja'Quan Keys rushed for 102 yards on 20 carries for the Sycamores.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
The rain didn't really let up until near the end, and at times turned the end zones into small lakes. Water cascaded down stairs like a waterfall and pooled up on the south end, while another pond formed on the north end. Indiana State had to re-enter from another tunnel because the one nearest their locker room was flooded.
Getting back into game flow was a struggle for both teams.
"It was easy to lose focus," Louisville receiver Jaylen Smith said. "It was easy to be distracted. You think about everything but what you're about to go out there and do."
Indiana State's Griffith said, "That was a little difficult. But guys were staying focused and being mature about it and handled their business. I don't think it played a big factor. I wasn't sure how to handle it. But coach told us how to handle and I think we did pretty good with it."
The announced crowd of 44,520 -- well below the new capacity of nearly 61,000 -- dwindled down to a hearty few thousand after the final stoppage.
Louisville running back Jeremy Smith returned to the program on Aug. 26 as a fifth-year senior and was immediately eligible because he didn't transfer anywhere else. He showed flashes of his old, powerful self by rushing six times for 56 yards, including a 21-yard run that set up Cunningham's go-ahead TD.
Indiana State: The Sycamores forced two first-half turnovers and had moments in which they seemed poised to drive on Louisville. But other than the 22-yard scoring drive after Griffith's interception, they couldn't sustain anything offensively and never got past Louisville's 42 in the second half in being outgained 363-211.
"We came down to win the football game," coach Curt Mallory said. "We didn't do that. Had our opportunities this evening."
Louisville: Cunningham's feet and arm gave the Cardinals a much-needed spark in the third quarter. He rushed 12 times for 54 yards, completed 6 of 7 passes for 75 yards and led four scoring drives. The defense lost middle linebacker Dorian Etheridge to injury late in the first half but stiffened up to hold the Sycamores to just 94 yards after halftime. Petrino did not immediately know the type and extent of Etheridge's injury.
Indiana State visits Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Louisville hosts in-state rival Western Kentucky on Saturday in the first series meeting since 1998. Bobby Petrino coached the Hilltoppers in 2013 before returning for a second stint with the Cardinals the next season.
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