LEXINGTON, Ky. — A touchdown pass helped Teddy Bridgewater overcome one of his slowest starts in recent memory.
Everything else soon fell into place for No. 7 Louisville, with a big boost from running back Senorise Perry.
Perry ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Bridgewater overcame a shaky start to pass for 250 yards and the Cardinals scored on four consecutive drives to pull away from rival Kentucky for a 27-13 victory on Saturday.
Louisville’s rebound followed a halftime tongue-lashing by coach Charlie Strong, who was upset with his offense.
They responded with 339 second-half yards en route to outgaining Kentucky 492-376.
“I was kind of (upset) at half because I knew we weren’t playing our best football,” Strong said. “I had some really good words for them. … We hadn’t played our best with our offense in the first half but defensively, we had.
“I knew eventually we would pick up on offense because we just have too many good players not to.”
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Louisville’s best player had already started making adjustments.
Bridgewater connected with DeVante Parker for a 13-yard touchdown just before halftime that opened things up for Louisville (3-0). The quarterback said he didn’t feel like his timing was off, but conceded that he wasn’t as accurate as he could have been.
The point was to keep pushing.
“You never carry one play into the next play,” he said after completing 16 of 28 attempts. “If I throw a bad ball one play then I just try to hit the next one.”
Perry followed with second-half TD runs of 1 and 36 yards sandwiched around John Wallace’s 21-yard field goal that provided a cushion. He finished with 100 yards on 11 carries to help the Cardinals earn their third straight Governor’s Cup.
The Cardinals’ defense held Kentucky to 0 for 13 on third downs and forced three turnovers, including two in their territory on consecutive possessions to preserve a win that required more work after easy wins over Ohio and Eastern Kentucky.
“That’s just good to show that we focused on the money down,” Louisville middle linebacker Preston Brown said. “Third down is a big down for us. We got off the field when we needed to.”
Alex Montgomery caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Whitlow in the fourth quarter and Joe Mansour kicked two field goals for Kentucky (1-2). Whitlow and starting quarterback Maxwell Smith combined to complete just 17 of 37 passes for 214 yards for the Wildcats.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Smith was “banged up” in the game and was unsure of his status. The Wildcats have a bye week before facing No. 18 Florida on Sept. 28.
“I felt like we had a good plan,” the coach said. “I felt like our guys were starting to play more aggressive, make them earn their yards. … It was disappointing that we had a couple of turnovers. We had our opportunities.”
Bridgewater returned to Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since directing a 24-17 victory in 2011 that helped launch a career that includes Heisman hopes this season.
He got off to a slow start as Kentucky’s defense kept him and his receivers in check for much of the first half.
He had just 58 yards through one quarter and looked especially out of sync in throwing behind Robert Clark after the Cardinals recovered a Whitlow fumble at the Wildcats 27. Wallace salvaged the drive with a 36-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
But Kentucky’s offense couldn’t take advantage as receivers dropped passes from Smith — who took all but two snaps in the first half — while Raymond Sanders fumbled a handoff at the Louisville 13 late in the second quarter.
The turnover ended a chance for the Wildcats to tie the game after Bridgewater finally got untracked to hit a leaping Parker over two defenders in the left corner with 2:36 left in the half.
“We call them ball fetchers and that’s the reason why,” Bridgewater of Parker. “Just throw it up and let them go get it.”
Dominique Brown helped set up Louisville’s first score with five straight carries for 27 yards to the Kentucky 15.
The Cardinals’ momentum continued into the second half as Perry sandwiched his TD runs around Wallace’s 21-yard field goal for a 27-3 lead that ensured they’d be carrying the Governor’s Cup again.
“All games are big games but this game is a little different and that’s why we had to go out and prepare the way we did,” Strong said. “We just had to make sure we had the focus and the confidence to believe that we could come in here and beat them.”