No. 8 Louisville survives Rutgers, 24-10
Louisville intercepted passes on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, the second by Terell Floyd to set up Teddy Bridgewater's 6-yard touchdown pass that clinched the Cardinals' 24-10 victory over Rutgers on Thursday night.
Defense was the story for the eighth-ranked Cardinals (6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference), who had four interceptions, sacked Gary Nova eight times and held Rutgers to 12 yards rushing. Safety Calvin Pryor led Louisville's stifling effort with 14 tackles and a fourth-quarter interception in holding the Scarlet Knights to 240 yards.
The Cardinals needed that performance to offset Bridgewater's off night. The junior completed 21 of 31 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception and fumbled early in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) couldn't take advantage of those miscues in seeing its four-game winning streak end and losing a fourth straight time to the Cardinals, who temporarily took control of first place in the AAC.
Nova completed 19 of 39 passes for 202 yards.
Damian Copeland had career highs of eight receptions and 115 yards, and Senorise Perry ran for 104 yards and a TD on 13 carries in Louisville's 461-yard effort.
But it took pickoffs by Pryor and Floyd to help preserve a lead that was tenuous in the second half.
Bridgewater didn't have one of his sharper games before 55,168 and 26 scouts from 20 NFL teams looking at a likely first-round draft choice in April. He overthrew his receivers several times — including one 5 yards out of bounds to an open Copeland in the fourth quarter that would have put the Cardinals inside the 5 — and had an interception in the end zone.
Floyd's interception gave Bridgewater a chance to close strong, and he hit Eli Rogers for the clinching touchdown to send a huge crowd home happy in the final meeting between the schools as conference members. Louisville is headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, while Rutgers is bound for the Big Ten.
The series finale had Cardinals coach Charlie Strong lamenting the end of a highly competitive rivalry. But it didn't change the bottom line of getting the upper hand in a conference race that figures to involve both schools. And typical of recent meetings, it was decided late.
The similarities between the schools added intrigue, especially with both averaging at least 40 points per game. Rutgers and Louisville also came in ranked 3-4 in run defense, forcing Bridgewater and Scarlet Knights counterpart Nova to lead their teams with the passing game.
For Bridgewater, it was a chance to show his Heisman Trophy credentials to a national audience as well as those NFL. However, the junior was missing his favorite target in top receiver DeVante Parker, whose injured right shoulder sustained last week at Temple left him watching from the sideline in street clothes.
Disappointing as it was for Louisville to be without the speedy deep threat, Bridgewater has spread the ball around to at least seven receivers in each game and hit five in the first half en route to 154 yards on 10-of-14 passing.
But in leading 17-7 at halftime, the Cardinals balanced running and passing to score on three of their first four possessions while their defense held the Scarlet Knights to just 1 yard rushing and intercepted Nova twice.
After driving 65 yards for John Wallace's 24-yard field goal on its first possession, James Burgess returned an interception 39 yards to set up Bridgewater's 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Kai De La Cruz two plays later for a 10-0 lead.
Louisville's next scoring drive featured two 12-yard Bridgewater runs followed by Perry's 23-yarder on a delay that led to his 1-yard TD dive. Initially ruled short of the goal line, replay showed the senior to have burst through a right-side hole on second effort that typified the Cardinals' determination.
Though Louisville seemed to be in gear on that score, its lead wasn't totally safe against a Rutgers team that has made a habit of comebacks this season. And the Scarlet Knights finally got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter as Nova's hit wide-open tight end Tyler Kroft down the middle for 26 yards to the 1. Kroft's 1-yard TD on the next play was just as easy.