By Josh Cook
It was an inauspicious beginning for the University of Louisville football team Saturday
The Cardinals couldn’t complain about the ending, though.
Louisville scored 28 unanswered points on its way to a 45-17 victory over Temple in front of 44,609 fans on a cold afternoon at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Week, completed 19 of 28 passes for 324 yards and a career-high five touchdowns as 10th-ranked UofL improved to 9-0 for the first time in school history (the Cards are also 4-0 in the Big East for the first time since joining the conference)
“This team is a resilient football team, they always find a way to win,” said UofL coach Charlie Strong, whose team trailed 7-0 and 14-7 in the first quarter before rallying. “But you sit here at 9-0 and we’re still not anywhere near where we should be.”
The Owls (3-5, 2-3) triggered some howls from UofL faithful when they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, then scored on their second drive of the game.
“They run back the opening kickoff and you say, ‘Oh God, that’s an 8-0 football team out there playing. I didn’t think it was,” Strong said of his squad.
However the Cards did their best to try and change their coach’s mind over the final 2 ¾ quarters, holding Temple scoreless over the final 41 minutes, 29 seconds.
UofL was especially stingy in the second half, holding the Owls to 140 yards of total offense and forcing three fumbles.
“In the second half we came out and played our defense,” said senior cornerback Adrian Bushell, who had three tackles and one fumble recovery. “We stopped the run while not allowing anything on the back end.”
“In the second half it was a totally different defense,” Strong added.
The Cards’ offense, meanwhile, was clicking behind Bridgewater. Louisville, which amassed 344 yards of total offense in building a 31-17 halftime lead, finished with 508 yards.
“I feel like our offense came out and executed well,” said senior wide receiver Andrell Smith, who finished with four catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams’ offenses executed early.
After Matt Brown returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a TD – the first time an opponent has done that to the Cards since at least 1978 (that’s as far back as UofL records go) – Louisville answered with a 10-play, 86-yard drive that ended with Bridgewater’s first touchdown pass – a 15-yarder to Eli Rogers.
However the Owls, who came in with the third-best rushing offense in the Big East, answered with a nine-play, 82-yard scoring march on their third possession. Seven of those plays were rushes, including Montel Harris’ 5-yard TD run with 2:05 to play in the first quarter.
“Defensively we didn’t play well,” Strong said. “We were just missing too many tackles.”
It took the Cards just two plays to temper Temple’s momentum. The second of those was a 72-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to tight end Ryan Hubbell.
The Owls fumbled on their next possession and Louisville turned that turnover into three points thanks to John Wallace’s 36-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
Temple, which earlier this season led 15th-ranked Rutgers 10-0 at halftime, wouldn’t wilt…at least for a few more minutes. Brandon McManus’ 34-yard field goal on the Owls’ subsequent possession tied it at 17-all with 11:30 to play in the first half.
From then on, though, it was a red and white rout.
Jeremy Wright, who rushed for a team-high 100 yards on 10 carries, capped off the Cards’ subsequent seven-play, 87-yard drive with a 3-yard TD dive to make it 24-17.
Then Louisville made it five-for-six on first-half drives, with a seven-play, 90-yard march just before halftime. Bridgewater’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Smith, who shook off some would-be tacklers before getting into the end zone, made it 31-17 with 1:02 left.
Bridgewater finished the first half 11 of 18 for 228 yards and three TDs, while the Cards also amassed 116 yards on the ground.
Louisville’s offensive onslaught continued in the third quarter, when the Cards outgained the Owls 148-25.
UofL added to its lead on Bridgewater’s 25-yard touchdown strike to DeVante Parker with 6:54 to play in the period, then tacked on another TD – on Bridgewater’s 9-yard pass to Smith – 6 seconds before the start of the fourth quarter.
That was all of the scoring – Will Stein relieved Bridgewater in the fourth period – as the Cards stayed unbeaten.
“It feels amazing,” Smith said. “When I first got here I never thought I would see this…just how we started off, we turned everything around.”
“To be part of the first 9-0 start ever is special,” Bushell said. “I am really excited. We are going to continue to work hard and finish the season strong.”
The Cards play at Syracuse (4-5, 3-2), which lost 35-24 at Cincinnati on Saturday, next Saturday.