By Xavier Bleuel–
Louisville vs. North Carolina
After cruising to two victories over inferior talent against Kentucky and Missouri State, Louisville had it’s first test of the season when North Carolina out of the ACC came into town.
Leading 36-7 at halftime behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and up by 25 early in the fourth quarter, Louisville survived a 20-point rally by Tar Heels Quarterback Bryn Renner, who passed for five touchdowns.
Louisville went from cruising to 3-0 to desperately trying to remain undefeated.
Andrew Johnson deflected a fourth-down pass in the end zone by North Carolina’s Renner with 1:53 left to give the Cardinals a 39-34 victory against the Tar Heels.
We had to come up with a big-time play in a big-time game,” Johnson said. “I saw Erik Highsmith jump and I knew I would out jump him, so I got my hand on the ball and tried to strip the ball. … But with (losing) such a big lead, no coach should be happy.”
“At the end of the day we still won the football game,” Strong said. “We have us a good team and we just need to learn how to finish.”
Louisville scored on its first six possessions thanks to three first-half touchdowns and 218 yards by Bridgewater. He finished 23 of 28 for 279.
Louisville vs. Rutgers
Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t take a snap from center because of a broken wrist, and had a hitch in his step because of a sprained ankle.
The Louisville quarterback was too banged-up to start, but more than well enough to finish off Rutgers and send the Cardinals to the Bowl Championship Series.
Bridgewater came off the bench to throw two-second half touchdown passes, and John Wallace kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 left to give Louisville a 20-17 victory against Rutgers on Thursday, November 29th in the de-facto Big East Championship game in Piscataway, New Jersey
Rutgers is bracing for a move to the Big 10 while the Cardinals are preparing for a jump to the ACC.
Bridgewater didn’t start less than a week after getting roughed up in a loss to Connecticut. He broke his left wrist and sprained his right ankle. He entered for the first time against Rutgers in the second quarter and finished 20 for 28 for 263 yards and threw a pair of TD passes in the third quarter to wipe out a 14-3 deficit.
Rutgers’s last chance ended when Gary Nova threw deep, but his receiver stopped short. Terrell Floyd made an over the shoulder interception with 1:06 left.
Rutgers was up, 14-3, at the half after Nova hooked up with his big receivers for two long TD passes — an 85-yarder to Brandon Coleman and a 68-yard play by Mark Harrison. Nova finished 13 for 28 for 284 yards.
Later in the game, on a kick off, Cardinals linebacker James Burgess launch into Jeremy Dearing in the chest, forcing a fumble recovered by Calvin Pryor. Bridgewater went right to work, floating a deep ball to DeVante Parker for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Just like that, it was 17-14 and Scarlet Knights fans fell silent.
Louisville vs. Florida, Sugar Bowl
In one of the more stunning outcomes in the BCS, the Cardinals pulled off a program-building win by beating SEC power No. 4 Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd before a Louisville-heavy crowd in the New Orleans Superdome.
Experts, like Kirk Herbstreet called Florida “disinterested.” However, the 34 Florida natives on the No. 23 Cardinals (11-2) roster didn’t care if they were disinterested or playing the game like it was their Super Bowl. They knew this was their chance to show the Gator players that many of them played with growing up that they were ready to play.
Cornerback Terell Floyd intercepted a tipped pass on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. The Cards would never look back.
“They kind of thought we were going to come in and lay down and give them the game,” Floyd said. “But Coach (Charlie) Strong always preaches that we’re better than any team in the nation if we come out and play hard. Coach Strong believed in us and our coaching staff believed in us, and we came in and believed in ourselves.”
Receiver Eli Rogers converted a third down on the Cards’ first possession with a 25-yard catch. On the same drive, defensive end B.J. Butler (Kissimmee) lined up at fullback and made his first career pass reception, rumbling 23 yards to the 1-yard line.
Senior running back Jeremy Wright ran in from there to make it 14-0.
Senior receiver Andrell Smith recovered the Gators’ onside kick to start the second half. And two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties against Florida on the play set U of L up at the Florida 19.
From there, Damian Copeland hauled in a 19-yard reception from Teddy Bridgewater (Miami) to give the Cards a touchdown on the first snap of each half. That made it 30-10, and the Cards could begin to believe their lead would hold up.
Strong, who spent the previous 15 seasons as a Florida assistant, who was passed up countless times for head coaching jobs, stood above all that night in New Orleans. He took a program that was left for dead from the previous coach to an ACC bid and a national championship contender in only three years time.
Strong, who downplayed the media hoopla during the week, was secretly confident in his team.
“We physically matched up and were able to overpower the No. (4) Team in the country,” he said. “I told them, ‘Don’t worry about who we’re playing. Win every play.’ They weren’t a team that produced a lot of points. … We knew we had to make them drive the ball down the field.”
Charlie Strong credits the fans as he led the Cards to their first Sugar Bowl trophy, and two bowl wins in his third year as coach.
Louisville faced a similar situation on third-and-goal from the 9. Butler, who lined up at tight end, bumped into teammate Nate Nord (Boca Raton) on a crossing pattern, throwing off the timing of Bridgewater’s pass to Nord.
But on the Cards’ ensuing possession, Bridgewater’s timing was just fine as he connected with DeVante Parker for a 15-yard touchdown and a 24-3 lead.
And just like the Scarlet Knight fans, Florida fans could do nothing but watch in dismay. The Gators couldn’t match up with the Cardinals, not on that day.
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal