LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Blidi Wreh-Wilson knew the ball would eventually come his way. The Connecticut cornerback just wanted to make sure he was in the right position to make a play.
Wilson’s first interception of the season came in the third overtime Saturday and helped the Huskies upset No. 19 Louisville 23-20.
On third and goal from Connecticut’s 5, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked for DeVante Parker in the end zone. But his pass was slightly behind his receiver and Wreh-Wilson, one of the top cornerbacks in the country, read it perfectly to make the pickoff.
Four plays later Chad Christen kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Huskies (5-6, 2-4 Big East Conference) their second straight win and maintain their bowl hopes.
“I just know in the red zone they like to go back-shoulder on the fade ball and I had the guy across from me,” Wreh-Wilson said. “On the play before, they ran a similar route and I played it the same way.
“This time, the ball came to me. I flattened him out and didn’t let him go upfield. I pushed him toward the sideline.”
Connecticut’s victory denied Louisville (9-2, 4-2) a chance to tie first-place Rutgers (9-2, 5-1). The No. 21 Scarlet Knights lost 27-6 to Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will play at Rutgers Thursday night and the winner will earn the Big East’s BCS bid.
“It’s tough when you lose one like that, the way we battled back to get the game into overtime,” Cardinals coach Charlie Strong said.
The Huskies’ defense made a 10-0 lead stand for more than three quarters before the Cardinals regrouped in the fourth behind Bridgewater. Although Louisville outgained Connecticut 401-241, the Huskies made the stand they needed at the right time.
“We were just looking for a few points in the second half and weren’t able to come up with points in the third and fourth quarters,” Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “I thought our guys hung in there on pride and with character and how hard they fought in this game.
“We just have to play the overtime. As a coach you just figure out how you can get in position to try and win the game and give the kids a chance to score some points and stop them on defense. We were fortunate here today and we came out ahead in a tough game.”
Others played big roles in the Huskies’ win.
Johnny McEntee relieved an injured Chandler Whitmer in the fourth quarter and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Shakim Phillips in the second OT. Lyle McCombs rushed for 133 yards on 29 carries and Nick Williams scored on a 3-yard run to put the Huskies up 10-0.
Christen gave Connecticut its first lead with a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter.
It was nearly a storybook comeback for Bridgewater, who sustained a broken left wrist on a second-quarter sack by Sio Moore and sat out most of the third quarter. The sophomore returned to lead Louisville’s fourth-quarter rally and force overtime with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Parker with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.
Bridgewater finished 30 of 53 passing for 331 yards and two touchdowns. But he was sacked four times along with the game-changing interception.
Louisville, which lost leading rusher Senorise Perry two weeks ago with a torn ACL, gained 27 yards rushing.
“The way we were blocking, no running back could have been a difference-maker,” Strong said.
For Connecticut, that was nothing new. The Huskies entered the game with the nation’s ninth-ranked defense and was No. 11 against the run at 108 yards allowed per game.
And they applied those strengths early and often against the Cardinals, who had the conference’s top scoring offense.
Louisville was outgained 160-88 in the first half while being shut out for the first time since Pittsburgh did it here a year ago. Bridgewater’s timing and mechanics looked particularly off with passes either underthrown or overthrown.
His receivers didn’t help him by dropping passes, either. One flub by a wide-open Parker on the second drive brought an angry Strong on the field to yell at his players.
“We hurt ourselves a lot,” senior center Mario Benavides said. “Typical game when things aren’t going your way, you stop yourself.”
And while Connecticut’s offense wasn’t great, the Huskies took advantage of their few opportunities.
After two three-and-out drives, Connecticut moved 51 yards in eight plays to set up Christen’s 39-yard field goal. Two drives later it was 10-0 as the Huskies drove 66 yards in 10 plays ending in Williams’ 3-yard touchdown run.
The lead stood until Bridgewater’s return inspired the Cardinals and the crowd of 45,618 late in the third quarter. After John Wallace’s 19-yard field goal early in the fourth, Bridgewater directed a 92-yard, 13-play drive kept alive by a 28-yard pass to Eli Rogers and a 9-yarder to Wright for first down at the Huskies’ 26.
A 14-yard pass to Wright and a face mask foul penalty on Connecticut set up first-and-goal at the 6, and Bridgewater found a wide-open Parker in the end zone.