After an accumulated 34 days, including a bye week, the University of Louisville Cardinals returned to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for a homecoming clash with the University of South Florida Bulls. Nail biters don't come much closer than this. On the line, a perfect record in the Big East and for the season. The Cards scraped by with a 27-25 win.
USF started fast on its first drive, playing the hurry up that Louisville has seen all season and at one point, they caught the defense napping for a big gain. But, as they have all season, after gaining chunks of yardage, the drive stalled with a field goal. The Bulls didn’t score again in the first half thanks in part to two sacks on quarterback B. J. Daniels. The defensive pressure, inspired by the Pitt game, started with intensity, even though they kept getting beaten at the point of attack and always between the tackles.
The Cards played a patient game on offense in the first half. Bridgewater didn’t misfire on any of his 11 passes while gaining 48 yards on the ground. His backfield tandem of Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry each scored touchdowns in the half.
USF came out like gangbusters in the second half, moving those big chunks of yardage and scoring touchdowns because the Cards couldn't clog the middle, leading to significant gains.
Louisville did come up with a big goal line stand with the Bulls on the six inch line to ignite their play. On that drive, Jermaine Reve was charged with a 15 yard penalty for an illegal hit that was roundly booed by the Cardinal faithful. That penalty got the crowd back into the game.
South Florida made it close with a touchdown drive and a two point conversion with 8 minutes to play. That made it Cardinal gut check time but they went 3 and out. The punt afterward went nowhere and had a 5 yard penalty tacked on for an illegal formation. Momentum resided on the USF sideline after a brief visit to the Louisville defense.
A disputed pass interference penalty on Adrian Bushell had Coach Charlie Strong nearly blowing a gasket either because at the call or at his team. USF scored on that drive to take the lead 25-21 but left 3 minutes for Bridgewater to work with. With the hurry up in effect, and battling more penalties the Cards continued their march. UofL caught a break when the Bulls hit Bridgewater out of bounds and he made them pay on an 11 yard TD pass to Eli Rogers. A blocked PAT kept the score to within 2.
To leave your fate in the hands of this defense is nerve wracking with another penalty keeping the Bulls in the game, particularly since they only needed to get into field goal range for the win. However, in the end, USF had to try a Hail Mary with 2 seconds left and Bushell intercepted the pass to preserve the Cardinal victory.
Louisville has work to do this week, though. Bridgewater outrushed both Wright and Perry, finishing the game with 74 yards on the ground. That shouldn’t happen with the strong Cardinal backfield. And after 7 games, the defense still needs work.
Next up for the Cards is a Friday night prime time date with Cincinnati who suffered an upset loss to Toledo 29-23. Does Louisville get a demoralized opponent or will they be raging from the setback and set their sights on getting revenge?
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton