Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did not throw a touchdown pass but the Cards defeated Houston, 20-13.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Maybe the University of Louisville football team was discouraged by the way that Central Florida failed to lose against Temple earlier Saturday afternoon, making it borderline impossible for the Cardinals to win the American Athletic Conference.
Maybe Houston is a better team than the rest of the world believes, especially the world that follows college football in Las Vegas. Maybe U of L isn't as good offensively as they were expected to be in August.
Judging by the increased grumbling at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, maybe the U of L play-calling is stuck in conservative mode. The Cards didn't score many style points -- or points on the field. They simply won.
On a night when the Cardinals were favored to handle Houston by 17, Louisville rallied from a three-point halftime deficit to outlast the Cougars, 20-13. Make it 9-1 for Louisville and 5-1 in the AAC with two games left.
The Cards won this one with defense, likely the best defense Louisville has played this season. Houston averages better than 38 points per game. The Cougars failed to score in the second half. The Cougars also average 470 yards per game. They left town with less than half that total -- 195. There's value in that. There's also success.
Vance Bedford's defense had to make one final stand, a stand the Cardinals' failed to make during their only loss against UCF last month. Houston had the ball on its 35 with 2:50 to play. The defense delivered its best series of the game – a holding call and two sacks left Houston with a third and 38. No chance. Two plays later the Cards took over on their 28 with 1:31 to play before running out the clock.
"I didn't want to remind them of that one game (UCF), the last home game," U of L coach Charlie Strong said. "They got the ball back with about three minutes. I told them if they're the defense that we think they are, we're going to go out there and stop these guys. We need to go make some plays."
Strong was not the only one delivering encouraging words. U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was also on the field talking.
"Just telling those guys to just get us a stop," Bridgewater said. "We're going to finish it on the field. I'll take my hats off to those guys. Houston is a spread offense. For our defense to be able to go neck and neck with them, it takes a ton of effort."
The Cards' offense was solid, but far from spectacular. Louisville managed only 332 yards of offense, a season low by 65 yards. Bridgewater did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 22 games. Lots of running plays on first down. Only three passing plays of 20 yards or more. Nothing tricky or unexpected. Nothing to get the fans up and keep them up. Not much to help the Cards in the polls.
Dominique Brown has certainly become Louisville's featured back. He ran for a pair of touchdowns and finished with 137 yards on 27 carries. Both of those totals are career highs for Brown – and season highs for Louisville.
"Everybody thinks Teddy is just the passing game but he got us into the right runs," said Brown, who also credited his offensive line.
"Our offensive coordinator (Shawn Watson) told us in the locker room at halftime we were going to come out and pound the ball. That's what we did."
TAKING A POLL – There were losses in the Top 25, but Louisville can only possibly benefit from one -- Stanford (ranked fourth in the BCS standings) losing to Southern California. Considering the Cardinals were ranked 20th last week, they're unlikely to climb past the Cardinal.
Georgia (25), Texas (24) and Miami (23) all lost, but they're several spots behind Charlie Strong's team.
BOWL FORECAST – One bowl was represented at the game – the Russell Athletic Bowl. That game will be played in Orlando, Dec. 28 and has the first pick of teams from the American Athletic Conference teams after the champion, which goes to a BCS game.
The champion still figures to be UCF, especially after the Knights' remarkable fourth-quarter rally to defeat Temple. UCF has to lose two of its last three for Louisville to have a chance to win the league. The Knights are 5-0 in the league while U of L and Cincinnati are tied at 5-1.
Bridgewater said that he watched UCF's rally against the Owls. Strong did not.
"It was a great game," Bridgewater said. "I'm a fan of great football.
"We're only going to worry about what we can control. We can't play games for the teams that Central Florida is going to be playing. We have to focus on ourselves."
"You're still sitting there and you're 9-1," Strong said. "Wherever we end up, it's our fault. We felt like we were BCS (quality). If we don't get there, we'll be comfortable wherever we go. If we end up with a great record, that's fine with me."
THE NFL EXPERIENCE – The number of pro scouts at the game was down from the Rutgers and UCF games. Only seven attended the Houston game, including three from the Miami Dolphins as well as Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster.
Former U of L quarterback Dave Ragone was here, driving from Nashville where he serves as the quarterbacks coach for the Titans.
UP NEXT – It won't be billed this way but Bridgewater will make his final appearance in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Saturday when the Cardinals finish their home season at noon against Memphis. Yes, he's just a junior. He'll be one of the first five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. He won't be back – unless it's during an off week during his pro schedule.
It will also be the final home game for receiver Damian Copeland, defensive end Marcus Smith, defensive tackle Brandon Dunn, safety Hakeem Smith and several more players.