It took a wild second half and some extra football, but No. 19 Louisville held on to stiff-arm Cincinnati 31-24 in overtime and claim the Keg of Nails trophy for the second straight year. Dominique Brown ran in a two-yard touchdown on the first possession of overtime just before the Cardinals' defense stuffed the Bearcats on the ensuing possession. With the win, Louisville accepted a bid to the Russell Athletic Bowl. The result also clinched a BCS bowl for UCF, the American Athletic Conference leader.
Here are three thoughts from Louisville's win:
• Teddy time: It seems like a broken record, but it's true once again: Teddy Bridgewater came through when it counted for Louisville.
The Cardinals' passer shook off a shaky first half in which he completed only six of his 14 pass attempts for one touchdown and one interception to help carry the Cardinals in the fourth quarter. After the Bearcats took a 14-10 lead on a Brendon Kay run in the third period, Bridgewater tossed two of his three touchdown passes in the final 15 minutes of a back-and-forth contest.
Louisville's first drive in the fourth quarter featured two vintage Bridgewater sequences. The normally pocket-prone quarterback scrambled for 14 yards to convert a heavily defended fourth-and-12 situation and keep the drive alive with under nine minutes to play. Three plays later, Bridgewater dipped and dodged a host of Cincinnati defenders -- a theme of the night thanks to the Cardinals' weak protection at the line -- and hurled a 22-yard bomb to Damian Copeland in the right corner of the end zone to give Louisville the lead.
The win over the Bearcats served as a nice bounce-back game for Bridgewater. In his last three games, the junior had been sacked eight times and managed only two touchdowns alongside one interception. But he finished 23-of-37 for three scores and one pick against Cincinnati. He capped the regular season with a whopping 28 touchdowns and four interceptions, and Thursday's game illustrated the effect Bridgewater has on this Cardinals team.
"He's an amazing player," Louisville coach Charlie Strong told ESPN after the game. "We saw in the second half the way he drove this football team. He's the one who inspires this team."
• Getting offensive: Bridgewater wasn't the only positive outcome for Louisville; the entire offense enjoyed a bounce-back performance of its own.
In the Cardinals' last three games against UConn, Houston and Memphis, the offense sputtered to only 347.7 yards per game. In the season's first eight games, Louisville's offense had reeled off 495.3 yards per contest. Things returned to normal on Thursday. The Cards put up 432 yards (5.5 per play) on Thursday night against a Cincinnati defense that came in allowing just over 302 yards per game (4.7 per play).
With Bridgewater finding his groove late, the passing game was especially potent between the quarterback and receiver DeVante Parker. Parker hauled in two of Bridgewater's three touchdowns -- he had two in last season's overtime win over Cincinnati, as well -- along with a game-high 104 receiving yards on nine catches. That marked Parker's first two-touchdown game since a win over FIU on Sept. 21 and his first game with 100 or more receiving yards since Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 7. With those two weapons clicking even against a stingy defense, that's bad news for Louisville's bowl opponent.
• Bearcat bummer: Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay took a beating all night long from Louisville's defense, and his decision-making cost the Bearcats the game in the final overtime.
After Brown's touchdown run put Louisville up early in the first overtime, Kay and the Cincinnati offense needed to find the end zone to stay alive. Kay faced a second-and-14 situation at the Cardinals' 29-yard-line but tossed three straight incompletions to seal the game for Louisville, including a high ball off the hands of Anthony McClung on fourth down. Things started rough for Kay against the Cards' second-ranked pass defense, which came in having allowed only eight passing touchdowns all year. Cincinnati's first two offensive possessions of the game ended in Kay interceptions. While the quarterback did rush for two touchdowns on the day, he wasn't able to find the end zone through the air. Misplaced throws were common on third down for Kay, and he even left the game briefly before halftime after a hard hit to the head on his first touchdown run. In a game where two teams nearly matched one another in offensive production, turnovers were key, and that's where Kay hurt the Bearcats on Thursday night.