Louisville 38, West Virginia 35
Louisville was able to hold on for a 38-35 victory on a sun-drenched afternoon in Morgantown although the Mountaineers were not in a very sunny mood after this one.
It was just the third time Louisville has defeated West Virginia - ever, and it was the first win for the Cardinals in Morgantown since 1990 when Louisville reached the Fiesta Bowl under Howard Schnellenberger.
The Cardinals 38 points were 14 more than they had scored in any prior game this season - and they got points as a result of all three phases on Saturday.
Excellent Louisville special teams play – or poor West Virginia special teams play depending upon your viewpoint – helped put this one in the win column for the Cardinals, now 5-4, 3-1.
“Not very hard to figure out, you lose the turnover battle and you go 0 for 2 on field goals, that gets you beat,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
“Our football team played very well today,” added Louisville coach Charlie Strong. “We went on the road and won a tough game here at West Virginia and got our third win in the conference. I am so happy for our team, and I am so happy with how well we responded.”
Louisville was able to score touchdowns on two poor West Virginia punts, dodged a bullet when Tyler Bitancurt missed a 32-yard field goal try on WVU’s first possession of the third quarter, and then broke open a three point game when Johnson blew by the WVU protection unit to block Bitancurt’s game-tying field goal attempt at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The ball bounced right into Johnson’s arms at the WVU 18 and he raced 82 yards with a convoy of teammates for the touchdown, giving Louisville a 31-21 lead.
“We were incredibly competitive in two areas of special teams and incredibly not competitive in two areas of special teams,” said Holgorsen.
The Mountaineers responded with a Shawne Alston 7-yard touchdown run with 9:01 left, driving 96 yards in the process, to reduce their deficit to 31-28, but the Cardinals answered with an impressive 66-yard scoring drive that consumed more than seven minutes of the clock and once again made it a two-possession game.
Twice the Cardinals converted third downs, the first at their own 37 when Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker for 11 yards to the 48, and a second from the WVU 24 when Bridgewater surprised the Mountaineers with a middle screen to running back Dominique Brown that gained 21 yards to the West Virginia 3.
But the key play of the drive came at the WVU 43 with 5:13 on the clock and Louisville staring at fourth and 1. After two timeouts – one by Louisville and the other by West Virginia, Strong gave the football to Brown, who was able to slip past two tacklers behind the line of scrimmage and lean forward to the 41 for a new set of downs.
Brown also capped the drive with his 3-yard TD run with 1:50 left in the game.
“We didn’t come here to lose or to play it tight. We came in here to win,” said Strong.
Louisville’s other rushing touchdowns came from Jeremy Wright (8 yards) and Senorise Perry (13 yards) in the first quarter.
Bridgewater’s TD pass occurred right before the end of the first half when he hit Eli Rogers for a 4- yard score with only nine seconds on the clock. That scoring play was set up by an 11-yard Mike Molinari punt that gave the Cardinals the ball at the 44.
Bridgewater, making just his sixth career start, had his best performance of the season by completing 21 of 27 passes for 246 yards.
“Ted just continues to get better and better,” said Strong. “As he has gained, he has developed. If you look at it, he is getting better and the whole offense is getting better because we are able to run the football. When you are able to run the football (105 net yards on 33 attempts), it opens up the passing game.”
And the Cardinal defense bailed Bridgewater out after he made his only mistake of the game on Louisville’s opening possession of the second half when he tried to throw against his body rolling out to his right. His pass was picked off by West Virginia linebacker Najee Goode, and the Mountaineers got the ball at the Cardinal 40 after Goode’s return inside the 10 was called back for an illegal block.
West Virginia got to the Louisville 15 but couldn’t cash in when Bitancurt missed his 32-yard field goal try that would have put the Mountaineers back in the lead. WVU failed to score in the third quarter – the first time that has happened this season.
That was in stark contrast to the beginning of the game when West Virginia got on the scoreboard with only 49 seconds expired from the clock. Brad Starks took the opening kickoff 62 yards to the Louisville 30, setting up Smith’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin. Later, the Mountaineers retook the lead early in the second quarter on back-to-back scores by Stedman Bailey and Alston.
Bailey’s TD came on a 5-yard pass from Smith with 12:18 to go in the second quarter while Alston’s score was the result of a 2-yard run with 5:47 remaining.
Smith had another big stat day, completing 31 of 44 passes for 410 yards with three touchdowns and Bailey recording his sixth 100-yard receiving performance of the season (118 yards on eight catches) leading to 533 total yards for the Mountaineers, but Louisville will gladly trade all those yards for the better number on the scoreboard.
“I don’t care about the number of yards,” Holgorsen said. “We had the ball in the red zone and didn’t convert.”
Louisville finished the afternoon with 351 total yards and was plus-one in turnovers.
The win today puts the Cardinals right back into the mix in the league race with three victories. Louisville has games remaining against Pitt, Connecticut and USF and still needs some help from teams playing Cincinnati; West Virginia, now 6-3, 2-2, has games left against the Bearcats, Pitt and USF.
A kick off time for next week’s Cincinnati game has yet to be determined.
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