TAMPA, Fla. — Teddy Bridgewater is determined to not let No. 18 Louisville stumble again.
The junior quarterback continued his stellar play, throwing for 344 yards and three touchdowns Saturday to help the Cardinals rebounded from their first loss of the season with a 34-3 rout of South Florida.
“We did what we said we wanted to do, and I feel that we have the type of team that we said we are,” Bridgewater said. “We showed our maturity by bouncing back and responding well. It was a great performance overall.”
Charles Gaines returned a fourth-quarter interception 70 yards for a TD as the Cardinals’ defense reverted to the form that helped Louisville (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) climb into the top 10 before blowing a 21-point, second-half lead at home during a 38-35 loss to Central Florida.
Bridgewater completed 25 of 29 passes with no interceptions, hiking his totals for the season to 23 TDs with two picks. In three career games against USF (2-5, 2-1), the Miami native has gone 65 of 82 for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
“It’s all about your mental toughness and being able to bounce back, and we were able to bounce back,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “It’s always good that you see your team come together. We knew what we had to go get accomplished, and they were able to do it. … You can’t let that one game beat you twice, and we weren’t going to let that game last week beat us again.”
USF failed to score an offensive touchdown for the third straight game, all in conference play. The Bulls used three quarterbacks and were outgained 485 yards to 133.
Now they’re making another change.
First-year Coach Willie Taggart said freshman Mike White, who got into the game in the fourth quarter, will become the fourth different starting QB in eight games when the Bulls travel to Houston on Thursday night.
“We’re not giving up on the season. … We’re looking for playmakers,” said Taggart, who left Western Kentucky after last season to take over USF’s struggling program. “We’re looking for answers. … I’ll see if Mike can give us some juice.”
Dominique Brown rushed for a career-best 125 yards and scored on a 5-yard reception for Louisville. Bridgewater threw TD passes of 20 yards to Damian Copeland and 69 yards to Gerald Christian.
UCF rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat the Cardinals — stopping an eight-game winning streak, dropping Louisville ten spots in the AP poll and out of first place in the AAC.
The offense was hardly the problem in the loss, though. Bridgewater threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, but a usually reliable defense was unable to close it out.
“We hate to talk about the past, but last year we lost to Syracuse and then came right back and lost to UConn. We told ourselves that we didn’t want to let last year’s UConn happen this year,” said Bridgewater, who has six 300-yard outings this season and has now thrown for a TD in 20 consecutive games.
“The guys responded well and played a great football game,” he added. “Last year, we let one game beat us twice, and we told ourselves that we weren’t going to let that happen this year.”
The Cardinals got off to another fast start Saturday, taking the opening kickoff and moving 90 yards to take a 7-0 lead on Bridgewater’s 20-yard TD pass to Damian Copeland. A drive to the USF 1 produced a 19-yard field goal and Christian’s 69-yard scoring reception helped Louisville to a 17-3 halftime lead.
USF’s sputtering offense was outgained 240 yards to 25 in the first half. Without two 15-yard penalties on Louisville, the Bulls wouldn’t have come close to scoring up to that point. The offense accounted for minus 2 yards on the 13-yard drive that positioned Marvin Kloss for a 50-yard field goal.
The Bulls don’t have an offensive touchdown since the closing seconds of a lopsided loss to Miami on Sept. 28. Nevertheless, they won their first two conference games, scoring two defensive touchdowns and one on special teams.
Bobby Eveld made his fourth start at quarterback for USF, but was replaced after injuring his left ankle in the second quarter. Penn State transfer Steven Bench took over, but didn’t have a lot more success moving the ball. He gave way to fourth-stringer Mike White after throwing the interception that Gaines returned for his TD.
The Cardinals dominated time of possession 41:43 to 17:47 and had no turnovers.
“We played well enough defensively. … We’ve got to get better offensively,” Taggart said. “If your defense is on the field all day, it’s going to give up some plays.”