Cincinnati attempts to rebound after Toledo
While Louisville looks to keep alive the dream of an undefeated season, Cincinnati can only try to ruin that hope after blowing its own chance at one.
The toughest test yet for the 16th-ranked Cardinals, and maybe their biggest until the season finale, appears to come Friday night when they host a Bearcats team coming off its first loss.
All but one of Louisville's victories have been against teams which enter this weekend under .500. After Friday's game, the Cardinals (7-0, 2-0 Big East) don't face another opponent that currently owns a winning record until closing the regular season Nov. 29 at Rutgers - 7-0 and ranked 18th.
The Cardinals are one of 11 FBS programs yet to lose after Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0) came off that list with a 29-23 defeat at Toledo on Saturday.
That dropped the Bearcats from the AP Top 25, but they've won five straight and nine of 10 against ranked conference foes, including five in a row on the road. Plus, Cincinnati has won the last four meetings with Louisville.
The Cardinals boast two rushers ranked among the top seven in the Big East, having relied heavily on the talented tandem of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright throughout their perfect start. However, the play of red-hot quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also could be a key factor against a Cincinnati defense that ranks third from the bottom in the Big East in passing yards allowed per game (229.8).
Bridgewater came up big Saturday, finding Eli Rogers for the go-ahead 11-yard touchdown with 1:35 to play in a 27-25 victory over South Florida. The sophomore completed 21 of 25 passes for 256 yards and two scores, and he rushed for a team-high 74 yards on 10 carries.
"He just continues to get better," coach Charlie Strong said. "If you watch each game, he just continues to develop more."
Bridgewater has taken over the Big East lead in passer rating (165.2) and ranks third nationally in completion percentage (73.4).
"I have high expectations of myself," Bridgewater said. "My goal every game is to be at 80 percent (completion percentage) or higher."
Still, Louisville would like to get its ground game back on track after Perry and Wright combined for just 56 yards on 22 carries against the Bulls.
"We have to be able to run the football," Strong said.
Cincinnati has surrendered the second-fewest rushing yards in the Big East but allowed a season-worst 229 in Saturday's loss.
The Bearcats were handed their first defeat despite not allowing an offensive touchdown to a Rockets team which had been averaging 36.4 points.
"If you would have told me that our defense would hold the explosive Toledo offense scoreless in terms of touchdowns, I would feel pretty confident that we would win the game," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said.
The Bearcats top the Big East with 1,354 rushing yards while the Cardinals rank second with 1,130.
George Winn is second in the conference with 607 rushing yards for a Cincinnati team which boasts the Big East's top three in yards per carry - Ralph Abernathy (6.6), Winn (6.3) and quarterback Munchie Legaux (6.0). Cincinnati has averaged a conference-best 467.5 total yards.
Legaux might be able to find success through the air against a Louisville defense that has allowed 14 passing touchdowns - most in the Big East. He's thrown for at least one in every game this year, but his two interceptions were damaging in the loss to Toledo and he completed a season-worst 41.6 percent of his passes (15 of 36). Legaux, though, did run for a touchdown for the third consecutive contest.
"We're going to have to play pretty good defense, because I know their quarterback is a runner and a thrower," Strong said.
While Legaux faces Louisville for the first time, Bridgewater gets his second crack at the Bearcats after he failed to throw for a touchdown and was sacked four times in last year's 25-16 loss at Cincinnati.