Louisville, KY – B.J. Daniels' Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game was intercepted, and the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals held off the South Florida Bulls, 27-25, to keep their undefeated season alive.
Down 25-21 with just over three minutes to play, Teddy Bridgewater completed 5-of-7 throws on Louisville's final offensive possession, connecting with Eli Rogers for an 11-yard score and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:35 remaining in the game.
"That's all about trust," said Bridgwater about Rogers. "He's one of those guys that I've been playing ball with since grade school. With the play in the end zone, he did a great job of getting open and did a great job of coming down with the catch."
However, DeDe Lattimore blocked the extra point and Louisville remained on top 27-25. On South Florida's ensuing possession, Daniels could only advance the ball to the Bulls' own 47 before his final throw was intercepted by Adrian Bushell.
Daniels threw three touchdowns earlier in the game and completed 21-of-38 passes for 189 yards and an interception for South Florida (2-5, 0-3 Big East), which lost its fifth straight game and remains winless in conference play. Lindsey Lamar ran for 110 yards on 15 carries and Andre Davis caught four passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns in the setback.
"Seems like we've been here before, we had our opportunities today, but one thing I certainly can say is that this team did go out and just compete their tails off," said South Florida coach Skip Holtz. "Just the energy, the way they competed, I know everyone gets tired of hearing it, but that was one heck of a football game to come on the road here."
Bridgewater was very efficient all game, completing 21-of-25 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He added 74 yards rushing on 10 carries for the Cardinals (7-0, 2-0), who are off to their best start since 2006. They will put their unblemished mark to the test on Friday when they host Cincinnati.
Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright each scored a touchdown for Louisville, but neither player broke 30 yards rushing on Saturday.
South Florida grabbed the lead with 3:09 to play in the game when Daniels found Davis for a 12-yard score, but Bridgewater answered right back for Louisville. He found Wright twice on the drive, completing passes of 14 and 16 yards, respectively, before rushing for 11 yards and drawing a personal foul penalty on Kayvon Webster to move Louisville to the Bulls' 11. Bridgewater connected with Rogers for an 11-yard score on the next play to account for the final margin.
"Each week, a different receiver stands up. Last week, it was DeVante Parker, this week it's Eli (Rogers)," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "Each game is going to be like this. I told our team you're right in the middle of a conference race now, so you have to be competitive each week and make sure we maintain our focus."
The Bulls trailed 14-3 following a Daniels fumble to end the first half, but scored on their first touch on the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, South Florida took over at its own 29. On the second play of the drive, Lamar broke off a 26-yard run to move into Cardinals' territory and rushed for 16 more two plays later to the Louisville 23. On 3rd-and-4, Daniels threw an 8-yard strike to Deonte Welch and two plays later found Davis in the end zone for a 12-yard score to pull within four.
But Louisville answered back on the ensuing possession, needing just under three minutes to score a touchdown.
On the third play of the drive, Perry caught a 12-yard pass from Bridgewater and then took two handoffs for a total of 18 yards down to the Bulls' 21. On the next play, Bridgewater connected with Damian Copeland for a 21-yard touchdown. Copeland finished with a game-high 93 yards on five catches and his touchdown brought the Cardinals' advantage back to 11.
South Florida squandered a scoring opportunity on its next touch. After Marcus Shaw's 4-yard run set up 1st-and-goal from the four, the Cardinals denied the Bulls of the end zone on four straight running plays. Daniels was stuffed for no gain on fourth down and South Florida came away with nothing after eating up over five minutes of the game clock, still trailing 21-10.
However, South Florida pulled within three midway through the final quarter. They capped a 14-play, 86-yard scoring drive when Daniels found Sean Price in the end zone for a 13-yard score. Price came up with a 17-yard catch earlier in the possession on 4th-and-8 to keep the drive alive. Demetri Murray rushed up the middle to score on the two-point conversion to make it 21-18.
Maikon Bonani kicked a 36-yard field goal on South Florida's opening drive, but the Cardinals took the lead on their second possession.
Faced with a 3rd-and-4, DeVante Parker caught an 18-yard pass from Bridgewater, who then scrambled for 10 yards to move Louisville inside the Bulls' 5-yard line. After Perry was denied the end zone on 3rd-and-goal, Louisville gave it back to the running back on fourth down and he broke his way through the line for a score.
Later in the second, Louisville built on its advantage with an 11-yard touchdown run by Wright to cap a 10-play scoring drive. Bridgewater completed a 16-yard pass to Rogers and then found Copeland for a 24-yard completion later in the drive to move the Cardinals to the South Florida 28. Bridgewater rushed up the middle for 17 yards before Wright scampered into the end zone to give Louisville a 14-3 lead with 3:38 remaining in the half.
South Florida moved to the Louisville 31 on its last touch of the half on a 21-yard completion from Daniels, but he was sacked on the following play by Lorenzo Mauldin, who forced the ball out. Louisville recovered the fumble and ran out the remaining second quarter clock.
Dating back to last season, the Cardinals have won 12 of their last 13 regular season games ... Derrick Hopkins led the Bulls with five catches for 54 yards ... Louisville was denied 30 points at home for the first time this season ... South Florida will host Syracuse next week as it searches for its first conference win.