No. 21 Louisville holds off Memphis, 24-17
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater shied away from questions about his future to focus on the present. His performance wasn’t pretty by his standards but provided a victorious memory should the Louisville quarterback move on to the next level.
Bridgewater threw for 220 yards and a touchdown in what could be his final home game and No. 21 Louisville held off Memphis 24-17 on Saturday.
The Cardinals used a 17-point surge over the second and third quarters to provide a cushion.
“For us to go up and then they start fighting back, you know those things happen,” Bridgewater said. “It’s all about how you answer them. We were able to finish strong and are glad to get the win.”
Louisville (10-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) seemed in control leading 24-3 before quarterback Paxton Lynch rallied Memphis (3-7, 1-5) with a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter and a 6-yard TD pass to Jesse Milleson with 6:07 remaining.
The Tigers’ defense was poised to give Lynch another opportunity but Reggis Ball was penalized for roughing punter Ryan Johnson, giving the Cardinals first down at the Memphis 29 with 2:58 left.
“He made great plays for us the whole night,” Memphis running back Brandon Hayes said of the penalty. “It just so happened to be him that made that penalty at that moment. That happens sometimes (in) football.”
Louisville eventually turned it over on downs at the Memphis 6. But with no timeouts left, the Tigers gained just 17 yards before time expired.
Louisville played without junior safety Calvin Pryor, who was suspended for the game for violating a team rule.
The Cardinals registered their first senior day win since 2007, and very well may have said goodbye to one of the best players in school history.
Bridgewater offered no clue on his plans either way, saying afterward, “I still feel that we have a couple more games on the schedule. Right now, I have my focus on that.”
Bridgewater began the season as a Heisman Trophy hopeful before a loss to Central Florida changed his fortunes. He is scheduled to graduate in December and is projected as a possible first overall pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, but coach Charlie Strong floated the scenario of his quarterback returning for his senior season.
That belief seemed to contradict Bridgewater’s pregame actions, in which he walked around the south end zone soaking in the atmosphere and kneeling for an extended solitary pregame prayer as if it might be his last time on the Cardinals’ home field.
Bridgewater downplayed it afterward, saying he was just proud to be there with 20 seniors. His objective was sending them out with a win before 46,421.
Saturday was bittersweet for senior middle linebacker Preston Brown. Hours after learning that his grandfather, John Brown, had died, the Cincinnati native returned a fumble 48 yards for Louisville’s first touchdown.
“There were a lot of emotions in me, but it was great to get a touchdown for him,” said Brown, who made a team-high nine tackles.
“It was great getting the touchdown for my grandpa. I put on a show for him.”
DeVante Parker caught a 39-yard TD pass from Bridgewater and John Wallace added a 39-yard field goal for a 17-3 halftime lead. Dominique Brown followed with a 4-yard score midway through the third period for a 24-3 lead that appeared safe at the time before inconsistency on both sides of the ball allowed Memphis to rally back into contention.
Louisville outgained Memphis 342-279 but sputtered after Dominique Brown’s TD run. Bridgewater hit 10 receivers in finishing 26 of 36, but was sacked four times.
“It was more rhythm and we never got in sync,” Strong said.
The Cardinals’ defense bent in allowing the Tigers to score on those back-to-back drives but also sacked Lynch three times and forced consecutive turnovers including Preston Brown’s fumble return.
Lynch was 11 of 23 for 144 yards with a TD and an interception for the Tigers, who had a two-game winning streak stopped.
Louisville’s second takeaway shifted the momentum. Lynch’s right throwing arm appeared to be going forward when he was hit by Cardinals defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and fumbled. Brown alertly picked up the ball and returned for the touchdown.
The play was upheld on review and Louisville had a 7-0 lead. After Memphis was held out of the end zone by a Louisville goal-line stand, the Cardinals’ offense scored 10 straight points from a hurry-up set.