Bridgewater, Louisville defeat South Florida 34-24

South Florida began this season looking like a championship

team. Now it’s in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time

since 2004.

Following a 34-24 Big East loss to Louisville on Friday, Bulls

coach Skip Holtz said he knows who to blame first – himself.

”I’m the head coach, that’s where it starts and that’s where it

stops,” said Holtz, whose Bulls (5-6, 1-5) opened with a victory

at Notre Dame en route to a 4-0 start, but have dropped six of

their last seven games. ”I’ve got to do a better job of holding

our staff to a higher standard and our staff has to do a better job

of holding our players to a higher standard.

”I take it personal. We’ve come close, but we haven’t done a

good enough job.”

The Bulls played the entire game with sophomore quarterback

Bobby Eveld, a former walk-on, because of a shoulder injury to

starter B.J. Daniels.

Eveld (20 of 35 for 210 yards) helped South Florida take a

two-touchdown lead late in the first half. But Louisville (7-5,

5-2) came back, getting three touchdown passes from freshman

quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, to clinch a share of the Big East

championship.

Louisville coach Charlie Strong said he didn’t get frustrated by

the first-half deficit. Instead, he emphasized a simple

message.

”We were beating ourselves, but I told them, `Just keep playing

and good things will happen,’ `’ Strong said.

They did.

Bridgewater and freshman wide receiver DeVante Parker were the

catalysts as Louisville won at South Florida for the first time

ever.

”That’s the reason I came to the University of Louisville – to

win championships,” Bridgewater said. ”Though people outside the

university may have counted us out, right now it’s all about

finishing.”

Parker had a 17-yard scoring reception in the back of the end

zone with 13 seconds to play in the half and a 10-yarder that put

the Cardinals ahead to stay with 9:38 remaining.

Bridgewater, who finished 19 of 28 for 241 yards, hit Eli Rogers

for a 30-yard completion on third-and-5 early in the nine-play,

57-yard go-ahead drive. Dominique Brown rumbled for a 3-yard gain

on fourth-and-1 from the South Florida 13-yard line, setting up the

final Bridgewater-to-Parker connection.

The Cardinals put the game away with 4:12 remaining on Brown’s

9-yard run.

Louisville, which began the season 2-4 before winning five of

its last six regular-season games, can capture the Big East’s berth

in a Bowl Championship Series game if Cincinnati is defeated one

more time and Friday night’s winner between Pittsburgh and West

Virginia loses next week.

”It’s all about November, and I always tell them, `Remember

November, today not tomorrow,’ and they just competed and

competed,” Strong said. ”We took care of our business, so now we

can watch everyone else play. Now we get to play on.

”At 2-4, I said, `There’s no way (to win a championship).’ I

was just trying to figure out how we were going to win. This team

has had adversity all year long. They’ve been able to handle

it.”

South Florida (5-6, 1-5) needs a victory in Thursday’s

regular-season finale against West Virginia to qualify for its

seventh consecutive bowl appearance.

”It’s really frustrating to have been as close as we’ve been,”

Holtz said. ”I thought Teddy Bridgewater played an excellent game,

but I also thought that defensively we were poor. You can’t let

that many guys run uncontested on the back end. We made it look

easier for them than it should’ve been.”

Nothing has been easy for Louisville when it comes to the state

of Florida. The Cardinals snapped a 16-game losing streak for

regular-season games played in the state, dating to 1972, which

included four consecutive losses at South Florida.

”We talked about it and we knew we were 0-4 here,” Strong

said. ”We knew we had to come down here and play well.”

”Everyone knows Coach Strong is a stat guy, and all week he

mentioned that we’ve never won a game down here and the average

margin of victory is 21 points,” Bridgewater said. ”Things like

that motivate a team. It motivated us.”

The Cardinals took a 20-17 lead with 2:40 remaining in the third

quarter on Bridgewater’s 18-yard pass to tight end Josh Chichester

on third-and-11.

South Florida struck back quickly when Lindsey Lamar went 62

yards with the ensuing kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage,

Eveld pitched to Demetris Murray, who stopped and flicked a

left-handed 37-yard halfback-option pass to Deonte Welch, giving

South Florida a 24-20 advantage.

From there, though, Louisville took command of the game by

rallying and by limiting South Florida to just one first down in

its next four possessions.

South Florida, largely capitalizing on Louisville mistakes, took

a 17-10 lead into halftime.

The Bulls went ahead 7-3 on Eveld’s 35-yard pass to Lamar on

fourth-and-3. Initially, South Florida seemed prepared for a punt,

then shifted its offensive players onto the field. Eveld found a

wide-open Lamar, who drifted behind safety Hakeem Smith down the

left sideline.

South Florida stalled on its next drive, but on fourth-and-17

from the Bulls’ 37-yard line, Louisville’s Mike Evans roughed

punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann, providing new life. Maikon Bonani

completed the nine-play, 34-yard drive with a 40-yard field

goal.

Louisville, looking for the equalizer, got a 19-yard pass from

Bridgewater to running back Jarel McGriff-Culver to the South

Florida 41, but strong safety Jon Lejiste rammed the ball loose

with a jarring hit and recovered the fumble.

South Florida then mounted a 13-play, 59-yard drive, culminating

in Murray’s 1-yard run on third-and-goal to provide a 17-3

advantage with 35 seconds remaining in the half. On fourth-and-1

from the Louisville 35, wide receiver Victor Marc took a snap at

quarterback and rushed for 4 yards.

Trying to prevent a last-second score, South Florida squibbed

the kickoff, but Senorise Perry still rumbled for a 49-yard return

before being pushed out of bounds at the Bulls’ 25-yard line. Two

plays later, Bridgewater found Parker for a 17-yard score in the

back of the end zone, cutting South Florida’s advantage to

17-10.

”That kickoff return (by Perry) was huge,” Bridgewater said.

”We were killing ourselves early in the game with penalties and

just not finishing. For him to get a return like that, he just

broke it loose. It was just what we needed and it got us

started.”