FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns and No. 18 Louisville rebounded from its first loss of the season with a 34-3 rout of South Florida on Saturday.
Charles Gaines returned a fourth-quarter interception 70 yards for a TD as the Cardinals’ defense reverted to the form that helped Louisville (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) climb into the top 10 before blowing a 21-point, second-half lead at home during a 38-35 loss to Central Florida.
Bridgewater completed 25 of 29 passes with no interceptions, hiking his totals for the season to 23 TDs with two picks. In three career games against USF (2-5, 2-1), the junior from Miami has gone 65 of 82 for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
USF failed to score an offensive touchdown for the third straight game, all in conference play. The Bulls used three quarterbacks and were outgained 485 yards to 133.
Dominique Brown rushed for 125 yards and scored on a 5-yard reception for Louisville. Bridgewater threw TD passes of 20 yards to Damian Copeland and 69 yards to Gerald Christian.
UCF rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat the Cardinals — stopping an eight-game winning streak, dropping Louisville ten spots in the AP Poll and out of first place in the AAC.
The offense was hardly the problem in the loss, though. Bridgewater threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, but a usually reliable defense was unable to close it out.
The Cardinals got off to another fast start Saturday, taking the opening kickoff and moving 90 yards to take a 7-0 lead on Bridgewater’s 20-yard TD pass to Damian Copeland. A drive to the USF 1 produced a 19-yard field goal and Christian’s 69-yard scoring reception helped Louisville to a 17-3 halftime lead.
USF’s sputtering offense was outgained 240 yards to 25 in the first half. Without two 15-yard penalties on Louisville for not allowing enough room to field a punt and roughing the passer, the Bulls wouldn’t have come close to scoring up to that point. The offense accounted for minus 2 yards on the 13-yard drive that positioned Marvin Kloss for a 50-yard field goal.
The Bulls don’t have an offensive touchdown since the closing seconds of a lopsided loss to Miami on Sept. 28. Nevertheless, they won their first two conference games, scoring on fumble and blocked field goal returns to beat Cincinnati and running back another fumble for TD in a three-point win over Connecticut.
Bobby Eveld made his fourth start at quarterback for USF, but was replaced after injuring his left ankle in the second quarter. Penn State transfer Steven Bench took over, but didn’t have a lot more success moving the ball. He gave way to fourth-stringer Mike White after throwing the interception that Gaines returned for his TD.
The Bulls’ most promising drive of the day, featuring a 24-yard run by Darius Tice and Bench’s 25-yard completion to Mike McFarland, ended Tice losing a fumble at the Louisville 19.
Bridgewater led scoring drives of 90, 73, 80, 82 and 81 yards. The Cardinals dominated time of possession 41:43 to 17:47 and had no turnovers.
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