Even with quarterback Brian Brohm's return to the starting lineup after sitting out the last two games with an injured thumb, the Cardinals needed a Gavin Smart pass deflection in the endzone with three seconds left in the game to preserve a hard fought, 23-17 win.
"It took until the last play to finish it, but we got it done," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "I've learned that they're all going to be battles the rest of the way."
"It was nerve-racking, but our defense did a great job," Brohm said of Cincinnati's final possession. "Our defense put out a lot of fires today. We need to get our edge back and I think we will."
Brohm threw for 324 yards, one touchdown and an interception, but the Cardinals offense continued to struggle inside the red-zone, settling for three short Art Carmody field goals.
"Maybe I wasn't quite as accurate, but I don't want to put that on the thumb," Brohm said. "I made those throws all week in practice and should have been able to (today). The interception I threw was a dumb decision by me and I shouldn't have done it. I'm not used to doing that. When the offense isn't clicking, you look at the quarterback."
The Bearcats jumped out to an early lead against the heavily favored Cardinals, who have now won 15 straight games at home. After Louisville tied the score at 3, Cincinnati marched 78-yards on 17 plays to reclaim a 10-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.
against UC, but made the big play when it
had to at the end. (AP)
Carmody then connected on his second field to cut the margin to four, and Louisville recovered a Dustin Grutza fumble at midfield that the Cardinals turned into seven points when Brohm found tight end Gary Barnidge from one-yard out for a 13-10 lead at halftime.
After intermission, Louisville's struggles continued offensively and the Cards didn't appear sharp in building a 23-10 lead with late in the fourth quarter. Freshman running back Anthony Allen gave Louisville some breathing room – and a 20-10 lead - when he scored from 17-yards out with 3:21 left in third quarter to cap a 2-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Allen's touchdown was set up by a 59-yard Brohm completion to Barnidge.
Things looked well in hand for the Cardinals when Carmody made his third field goal of the game with 6:09 left in the contest. But the Bearcats didn't go quietly, marching 72-yards on seven plays that was capped by Grutza's 18-yard touchdown pass with 4:20 remaining.
The Cardinals tried to run out the clock, but were forced to punt and pinned the Bearcats deep in their own territory. Cincinnati, forced to use all three of their timeouts on Louisville's final possession, took over with 2:38 remaining at their own eight. But the Bearcats had one final scare for the Cardinals, moving rapidly downfield to the U of L 16, before Grutza's final pass attempt on 4th down was batted down in the endzone.
Grutz threw for 129 yards and ran for 75 more. Brohm completed 20-37 passes, but threw a fourth quarter interception deep inside Cincinnati territory that prevented a potential scoring drive for the Cardinals.
The Bearcats held Louisville to 429 yards total offense and 21 points below the Cardinals season scoring average. Cincinnati also had their way on the ground against Louisville nationally-ranked defense, gaining 212 yards on 52 carries.
Gary Barnidge led Louisville with 5 receptions for 96 yards. Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas both caught five passes for the Cardinals.
Sophomore Brock Bolen led the Cardinals with six carries for 45 yards. Kolby Smith carried only three times for Louisville.
Louisville will travel north next Saturday to take on the much improved Syracuse Orangemen. Syracuse lost on the road at West Virginia Saturday afternoon, 41-17, after trailing by only three points at halftime.
Game notes provided by UofLSports.com