Tech had put together an impressive drive on the ensuing possession, but Haynes King, dropping back to pass at his own 16, was sacked by Dezmond Till and the Tech QB fumbled. Kameron Wilson fell on the ball at the Louisville 26.
On the next snap, Jawhar Jordan broke loose for 74 yards to the end zone to ice the victory. Brock Travelstead added a 37-yard field goal with 2:37 on the clock to give the visitors just enough of a cushion.
Plummer threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns for the Cardinals, who won despite going 1-for-11 on third-down plays, rushed for 229 yards. King threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman Eric Singleton with 1:07 to go, but the Jackets couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick.
Tech next hosts South Carolina State at 1 p.m. Sept. 9 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“A loss is a loss,” Tech coach Brent Key said. “There’s no asterisk next to one that says it was a close loss or we let it slip away or it was a blowout. A loss is a loss. They all feel the same.”
The start to the season couldn’t have been any more disastrous for Tech on Friday. On a third-and-3 call from his own 25 on the game’s first possession, King was hit from behind as he threw, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Cardinals defensive lineman Ramon Puryear.
Louisville converted that turnover into a 34-yard field goal by Travelstead less than three minutes into the game.
Tech’s defense played well for much of the opening quarter until a broken coverage gave Louisville life. Plummer found Kevin Coleman for a 40-yard gain late in the period, and the Cardinals were on the move.
A 10-play, 79-yard drive that chewed up nearly 4-1/2 minutes ended with another Travelstead field goal, making the score 6-0.
As the quarter changed into the second, the Jackets suddenly came to life. A 75-yard drive, highlighted by Jamal Haynes’ 46-yard catch and run out of the backfield, ended with King’s roll out to the left and 2-yard toss to tight end Brett Seither.
Seither, a transfer from Georgia, spun into the end zone, and Tech took a 7-6 lead with 11:50 to go in the half.
Tech’s next drive was much shorter but no less impressive. A King bomb to Malik Rutherford went for 55 yards and put the Jackets in business at the 12. One play later, Trey Cooley, a Louisville transfer, dove in from a yard out making the score 14-6 with 9:03 on the clock.
Louisville came right back, and a 9-yard TD pass from Plummer to Coleman cut the deficit to one point, at 14-13, but Tech came right back and blitzed down the field in less than 2-1/2 minutes to score again. Cooley found pay dirt for a second time, scampering in from 23 yards out, and the Jackets had another eight-point lead.
Less than three minutes later, King hit the big play. His simple wide receiver screen off to the right went to Chase Lane. The Texas A&M transfer broke through the defense for a 48-yard score.
The Jackets took a 28-13 lead into the locker room after scoring on four consecutive possessions. They racked up 321 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per play.
“Our identity was in spurts,” Key said. “We had flashes of an identity. We had flashes of the team we want to be. That is hard to process. When you put things on tape and show them you can be, we need to be that. You can’t part time do it and be it. That’ll be part of the lessons we learn from the game.”
Louisville began the second half refreshed and refocused, scoring on consecutive possessions – with a field goal and touchdown, respectively, to get within 28-23. That’s how the score would stay heading into the final 15 minutes.
King finished 19-of-32 passing for 313 yards and three touchdowns, but the sophomore also threw an interception and lost a fumble in his Tech debut.
“At times we couldn’t run the ball and then couldn’t get anybody on the perimeter, get people loose,” King said of the season half. “That’s what happened in the first half. We got a couple people loose on the perimeter, they made plays. Second half it just didn’t happen. They made a couple adjustments, and we didn’t respond well to them.”