Louisville had their best regular season since 2006 and are headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans January 2.
The Cardinals had to fight for every victory and several games went down to the wire, but they were able to end their season with a 10-2 record.
Head coach Charlie Strong has a lot of affection for his young team. With a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater and an athletic defense, the Cardinals will take on the Florida Gators January 2.
The coaching staff was worried about the youth and inexperience of the team before the season, but it seemed that a different player stepped up for the Cardinals each week.
Strong said of his team before the season started via GoCards.com:
We know there are only nine seniors, but the leadership is there because we have the guys that have played enough. We are still a young football team, but there are enough guys that have played that we feel comfortable, even if it’s a junior or senior, with whoever can step up and be a leader. That is what we are looking for. I know by looking at the way the guys are working they are responding well, but we are only five days into it and we still have a number of practices left to go. We just continue to watch how we develop as a football team. Once you develop the leadership, you start developing as a team. The leaders can inspire, direct and pull together a group of men in the right direction, which we have not been able to do the past two years.
Louisville has won their second straight Big East title and will go to their third straight bowl game, let's see how they got there.
Jon Hancock is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
You can follow Jon on Twitter @JonKYSportsCo.
Louisville and Kentucky players and fans spent the complete offseason talking smack, but in the end the Louisville Cardinals proved to be the best team in the state of Kentucky.
The Cardinals dominated on offense with 466 total yards in their 32-14 victory.
Louisville had several long drives and held the ball for more than 36 minutes.
Senorise Perry and James Wright both ran for over 100 yards. Wright had three touchdowns on the ground.
Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith had a very decent outing with 280 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals defense held the Wildcats to just 93 yards on the ground.
“Anytime you play a rival game you want to go win the football game and that is what our focus was," Charlie Strong said after the game. "Not only that game, but we want to win them all if we possibly can. That was a big win for us.”
Louisville's win over Missouri State was when the nation took notice of Teddy Bridgewater.
The Cardinals came into the game ranked 23rd in the nation.
Bridgewater had a career high 344 passing yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time in his college career that he threw for over 300 yards.
Louisville's defense held the Missouri State Bears to 249 yards of offense.
Sophomore free-safety Calvin Pryor led the Louisville defense with eight tackles and one interception. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin had the only sack on the day for the Cardinals.
Although the Cardinals won easily, Charlie Strong knew his team has a lot of improving to do.
Strong said after the game:
I am very pleased with the victory today, but what is frustrating is that we played hard, but we did not play smart. We had nine penalties, and if you look at last week, our offense ran pretty well and then this week we sputtered offensively in the first half. We never got in sync, and we never got into rhythm.
If the Missouri State game was won by Teddy Bridgewater, then the North Carolina game was won by the Louisville Cardinal fans.
The Cardinals dominated the North Carolina Tar Heels the first half and went into halftime up 36-7.
UNC's quarterback, Bryn Renner, led the Tar Heels on an amazing comeback in the second half. He threw for 207 yards in the second half alone and got his team within six with almost two minutes left in the game.
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was loud, as Cardinal fans used their thunder sticks to frustrate the North Carolina offense.
Renner threw a pass to senior wide receiver Erik Highsmith on fourth and goal. Louisville's Andrew Johnson knocked it out of Highsmith's hands in the end-zone, sealing the Cardinal victory.
Andrew Johnson said about his big defensive play, “They had beat us earlier in that same route, so I knew they were going to come back to it. I made sure to get inside and that gave me leverage to knock the ball out.”
Coach Charlie Strong said after the game:
It was a tale of two halves.Where in the first half we were unstoppable on offense, taking the ball every drive and scoring. Defensively we were able to make plays allowing them only one score. The reason we won is because of our fans and the excitement and energy that they brought into the stadium.
After losing last year at home to Florida International, Louisville wanted to prove they weren't the same from a year ago.
The Cardinals played in the rain for their first road game and were tied with the FIU Panthers at halftime, 14-14.
Teddy Bridgewater, who is from Miami, Fla., was able to bring the Cards back with his arm and with his legs. He ended the game with 194 yards passing and two touchdown passes. He ran for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Bridgewater also threw two interceptions, which gave the Panthers great field position both times.
Louisville showed their weakness at special teams, especially on the kickoff team. FIU's De'Andre Jasper and Richard Leonard both had big returns in the game. Jasper had four returns for 111 yards including one return for 34. Leonard had one big return for 44 yards.
In the end Strong was happy his team fought the entire 60 minutes and were able to leave with a win.
“We just didn’t play smart," Strong said after the game via FIUSports.com, "we didn’t execute at all tonight but we are happy to get out of here with a win.”
If Strong was happy to get a victory at Florida International, he was ecstatic to leave Southern Mississippi with a win.
The clouds opened wide and the rain poured in Hattiesburg, Miss., causing a river to flow through the center of the field. Players were sliding everywhere, and both quarterbacks had issues getting a grip on the football.
Bridgewater threw just 13 passes, completing nine of them for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Louisville had 184 yards on the ground, led by Senorise Perry who had 118 yards and two touchdowns. Perry also ran for the game-winning touchdown with a little over five minutes left to go in the game.
Jeremy Wright added 84 yards on 20 carries.
Southern Mississippi also had huge success in the ground with 224 yards rushing, led by Desmond Johnson who had 99 yards including a 50-yard run.
Strong said after the game via SouthernMiss.com:
You know for us to come in and survive the conditions that we played under tonight just speaks about our team, a resilient team. We talk to them about finding a way to win and we also talk to them about refusing to lose. You watched tonight the way we battled, we just refused to lose.
Louisville came into the game still undefeated and still in the Top 25. But after difficult wins at FIU and Southern Mississippi many started to believe the Cardinals weren't as good as they were projected to be.
The team knew how important winning their last of three road games was, especially since Pittsburgh was their first Big East conference game.
Pittsburgh started the game without fear of the Cardinals and went into halftime up 21-17.
In the end though the Panthers could not contain Senorise Perry who had 101 yards on 12 carries and a career high four touchdown runs.
The Cardinals scored 28 points in the second half and won the game, 45-35.
The half began with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Devante Parker that stole the momentum away from the Panthers.
Strong was happy to head back home undefeated (via GoCards.com): "It’s the first conference game of six. You have to win to stay in the race. We’ve played away from home for a month. We get to go home and play four of our next six games in front of our home crowd."
Louisville returned to a sold out Papa John's Cardinal Stadium after three games on the road to face the South Florida Bulls.
Just like in years past, the Cardinals and the Bulls battled until the final whistle. But in the end Louisville won 27-25.
Louisville went into halftime with a comfortable lead of 14-3. Then USF's quarterback, B.J. Daniels, rallied his team back to take the lead with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Teddy Bridgewater then took the Cardinal's offense 75 yards and ran for an 11-yard scramble to take back the lead with a minute and a half left in the game.
Daniels was then sacked by Lorenzo Mauldin on the first play of the final drive and then pressured to throw an incomplete pass by linebacker Keith Brown on second down.
Senior cornerback Adrian Bushell then sealed the game with an acrobatic interception with zero seconds on the clock.
Coach Strong was happy with the win and the lessons it taught his football team.
“Today was a good lesson for us," Strong said after the game. "South Florida came in here wanting to win this football game and we were able to answer in the end.”
When you mix a Friday night game on ESPN, pouring rain and the Louisville vs. Cincinnati battle for the Keg of Nails trophy, anything can happen.
In this game anything that can happen in a football game happened. From big passes, to strange referee calls, to big turnovers, to a game winning field goal—this game had it all.
In the end the Cardinals took home the Keg of Nails after losing to Cincinnati four straight years after red-shirt freshman John Wallace hit the game-winning field goal in overtime.
Teddy Bridgewater threw for a career high 416 yards and two touchdown passes in the game. Both touchdown passes went to wide receiver Devante Parker.
Cincinnati's QB, Munchie Legaux, said before the game that he was better than Teddy Bridgewater. Leguax had just 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the game.
After much celebration in the rain, Coach Strong preached the importance of this game for the Louisville football program:
The only thing I can say is when you talk about tenacity, when you talk about finish, you talk about resiliency—that’s what you look at with this football team. It’s amazing. That locker room is very happy right now. We didn’t play very well the first half. We weren’t in sync on offense. We made a lot of mistakes just in the rhythm. Defensively we were able to get two turnovers and kind of kept ourselves in the game on defense just because of the plays we were making. But we have to get better.
Louisville came into the Temple game ranked 12th in the nation, but many questioned if they could dominate an entire game. The Cardinals answered that question by beating the Owls 45-17 at home.
Temple started the game with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by wide receiver Matt Brown and hushed the crowd quickly.
Louisville answered by scoring five touchdowns in their first six offensive drives and went into halftime up 31-17.
Louisville had a total of 508 yards of total offense, led by Bridgewater's 324 yards passing and career-high five touchdown passes.
Senior QB Will Stein was able to play some minutes and went three for five for 14 yards passing.
Jeremy Wright added 100 yards on the ground in only 10 carries.
The Owls had 255 yards on the ground in the game but was held to just 54 yards through the air.
Coach Strong was happy about being 9-0 but knew his team still had a lot of work to do on defense and special teams.
Strong said after the game:
The way we started off this day, I didn’t know if I would have a chance to stand up here talking about going 9-0. When you watch this team, Temple took the opening kickoff all the way back. Then our offense gets a chance to move the ball, and defensively we didn’t play well. We missed way too many tackles which allowed them to run the ball effectively in the first half. Then you watch the second half, we come out like a totally different defense. We shut down the run and actually pitched a shutout. This football team is a resilient team that always finds a way to win.
Louisville came into Syracuse, N.Y. undefeated and with a huge target on their backs.
The Cardinals struggled the entire game and did not look like the same team from a week before. The Syracuse Orange wanted a win on their senior day, and they won big, 45-26.
Louisville lost their leading rusher, Senorise Perry, in the first drive of the game and could never gain momentum. After the game it was discovered Perry had torn his ACL and would be out the remainder of the season.
Birdgewater passed for 424 yards and three touchdowns, but the Cardinals were held to just 59 yards on the ground.
Louisville's kickoff team continued to struggle, allowing the Orange to have great field position throughout the game.
Strong said after the game via GoCards.com:
We didn't play well—the preparation and the execution weren't there. We didn't play well in all three phases. We have a lot to learn from this game. Now we have to go back. We have two more games and have to see where this football team is. This was a good experience for us—to come into a hostile environment and see how we could play and we just didn't play well today.
Louisville wanted to bounce back after losing their first game of the season to Syracuse a week before but was unable to fight through adversity to beat the UConn Huskies.
The Huskies led most of the game 10-0 until the Cardinals scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. After three hard fought overtimes, the Huskies kicked a game winning field goal and left with a 23-20 victory over the 19th-ranked Cardinals.
The Cardinals honored 13 seniors during a halftime ceremony, even though most people's minds were on the condition of Teddy Bridgewater, who broke his left wrist right before halftime. Bridgewater received an x-ray at halftime, a cast was placed on his arm and he returned to 48,000 fans cheering his name.
Bridgewater later sprained his ankle in overtime.
The sophomore quarter back had 331 yards passing and two touchdowns despite the loss.
Charlie Strong was disappointed in the loss but was proud of his quarterback's willingness to fight through the pain.
Strong said in his press conference, “The goal is to finish out the season the right way. You are here and you have a group of seniors and you want to go out and finish the season right for them. We have to play better. We didn’t play very well today."
Strong added, "[Teddy Bridgewater] showed his toughness out there today. The way he came back out after halftime and competed and played so well in the overtime.
Even with the two straight losses, Louisville still had a chance to go to a BCS bowl and win the Big East title as long as they could defeat Rutgers—but Louisville was going to have to fight with a one-armed, one-legged Teddy Bridgewater.
Will Stein started the game at quarterback, since Bridgewater had not practiced the entire week.
Rutgers went into halftime with a lot of momentum up 14-3. Bridgewater then inspired the nation with his two second-half touchdown passes and took back the lead.
Bridgewater ended the game with 263 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Rutgers tied the game with two and a half minutes in the game with a 38-yard field goal by Nick Borgese.
The Cardinals then drove down the field quickly thanks to a 30-yard pass to Andrell Smith from Bridgewater. John Wallace then connected on a 29-yard field goal to retake the lead with less than two minutes in the game.
Rutgers QB Gary Nova then threw a bad pass that was intercepted by Louisville's Terrell Floyd. Will Stein kneed the ball to finish the game with a 20-17 win.
"All season long, this football team has been a very resilient football team," Strong said after the game (via GoCards.com), "they have come back from a lot of times that we have been down."
For us to go on the road and win the championship, it's so special. It's special for this program. It's special for the University. It's special for our fans and for the city of Louisville. It's just special. I'm just so happy for us to get to a 10-win season, go win us a conference title and get us to a BCS bowl.
With all of Louisville's success since Charlie Strong became their head football coach, several teams came knocking for his services.
Tennessee came hard after Strong, offering money, incentives and a great history. After days of speculation Charlie Strong decided to stay at the University of Louisville.
"It was the toughest decision that I've ever had to make in my 29 years of coaching," Strong said (via CardsandCats.com). "It was a life decision for myself, my family, and for my school."
Strong added, "When I thought about leaving, I kept coming back—we haven't finished the job yet, we're still growing together, we have a lot of work to do."
With Strong staying at Louisville the sky is the limit with this program.
Now Louisville can focus on their game against Florida in New Orleans on January 2.