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Louisville, Ky. - Louisville coach Charlie Strong hopes his 16th-ranked Cardinals have learned they can't take any opponent for granted.
Teddy Bridgewater threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers with 1:35 left, and the undefeated Cardinals edged South Florida 27-25 on Saturday for their best start since 2006.
"We can't go into a game thinking because a team is 2-4 they aren't going to come into a game and play as hard," Strong said. "You watch today, and it was a good lesson for us. They came in here, South Florida wanting to win this game bad. But we had the answer at the end."
Louisville (7-0, 2-0 Big East) rallied after yielding 15 straight points to South Florida and a season-high 197 yards rushing. Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright each ran for a touchdown for the Cardinals, who can match the school's 8-0 start in 2006 on Friday night when they host No. 21 Cincinnati.
B.J. Daniels threw three TD passes in the second half, the last one putting South Florida ahead 25-21 with 3:09 left. The Bulls had one last chance for the win, but Adrian Bushell intercepted Daniels' last-gasp throw at the Louisville 10 as time ran out.
"We've been fighting through a lot of adversity, it's good to get through another one," Louisville linebacker Preston Brown said. "We just wanted to keep our composure. (We) knew with Teddy, he would score. We just had to get the stop after they scored."
South Florida (2-5, 0-3) has dropped five straight games. It has just one win in its last 12 conference games dating to last season.
"We had a chance to finish right there," linebacker Sam Barrington said. "It's crazy because there were two minutes left in the game, and I'm sitting there confident because God finally blessed us and helped us win. Now I'm talking on the other end, and we lost the game. It's definitely tough."
Louisville finished with four sacks and a big goal-line stand late in the third quarter.
Bridgewater was 21 of 25 for 256 yards and two TDs, and the sophomore quarterback also led the Cardinals with 74 yards rushing on 10 carries. He connected with nine different receivers in his seventh straight game with at least one touchdown pass.
"There was a lot riding on that game, bragging rights and things like that," Bridgewater said. "I am a guy from the state of Florida. I played on high school teams with some of their guys and grew up. The game meant a lot to me."
South Florida outgained Louisville 386-384, and Lindsey Lamar ran for 110 yards against a Louisville unit that came in ranked 26th nationally in run defense, allowing an average of 114 yards per game. The Bulls grabbed the lead by scoring 15 straight points after Louisville stopped them during a goal-line stand in the third quarter when South Florida thought it had scored not once but twice.
First, Lamar appeared to score on first-and-goal on a 4-yard run. But officials ruled Lamar down at the 1. Daniels tried to sneak in and was stopped. Demetris Murray couldn't score on third down. Then Daniels pushed up through the left side on fourth down and into the end zone.
But officials flagged Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith for jumping offside, forcing South Florida to line up one more time. Daniels kept the ball and was stopped yet again, sparking a big celebration by Louisville.
"That was a great stand by the defense, and we really needed that," Rogers said.
Strong couldn't recall a goal-line stand by Louisville since he's been with the program.
"It was first-and-goal and what? The 1-inch line, and they got five downs when we luckily jumped offsides there," Strong said.
The Bulls closed to 21-18 after Daniels directed an 86-yard, 14-play drive, including a fourth-down conversion. He finished it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Sean Price with 8:02 left. When Louisville was flagged for being offside on the extra point, the Bulls gave the ball to Demetris Murray for the 2-point conversion.
Daniels then found Andre Davis for a 12-yard score to make it 25-21. The drive featured a defensive pass interference call on Bushell where the ball appeared uncatchable out of bounds.
Bridgewater, who completed his first 11 passes of the game, responded by leading the Cardinals on a 75-yard drive. He set up the winning TD pass by scrambling 11 yards, and officials flagged Bulls cornerback Kayvon Webster for a late hit as the QB went out of bounds. A play later, Bridgewater found Rodgers at the back of the end zone.
"I was going to do whatever it took to get the team in the end zone," Bridgewater said.
DeDe Lattimore blocked John Wallace's extra point, giving the Bulls a chance to win with only a field goal. But the Cardinals got their fourth sack of Daniels on the opening play of the resulting drive. With no timeouts, the Bulls' last gasp came on third-and-10 when Bushell grabbed Daniels' last pass.