USF plays victim as Louisville rebounds from only loss

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Letdown? What letdown?

Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns and the Cardinals defense avoided a second-half collapse as No. 10 Louisville revived its hopes for a Big East title with a 31-8 win over South Florida on Saturday.

The win, coupled with Rutgers' loss at Cincinnati, vaulted the Cardinals (9-1, 4-1 Big East) into a three-way tie atop the Big East with the Scarlet Knights and No. 8 West Virginia.

All three teams are 4-1 in the conference with two weeks to play. Louisville takes on Pittsburgh next Saturday.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said earlier in the week he wondered how much his players would have left in the tank after a two-week stretch that included a win over the Mountaineers and a loss to the Scarlet Knights.

The answer, it turned out, was plenty.

The Cardinals avenged a 31-point loss to the Bulls (7-4, 3-3) last year by playing with a businesslike efficiency on offense and an aggressive on defense that limited South Florida to 286 yards and sacked quarterback Matt Grothe six times.

"That's what we talked about all week is when you have some adversity it doesn't necessarily build character, but it reveals it," Petrino said. "I thought it was great the way our players responded."

Brohm expected the Bulls to blitz liberally after seeing how the pressure affected him against Rutgers, but he stood in the pocket when he had to and showed some nimble footwork that allowed him to escape the rush and find open receivers.

"Everybody got back into the rhythm of things," Brohm said. "The big thing early on, we didn't let a few early three-and-outs bother us. We stayed in the game and stayed positive."

Wide receiver Harry Douglas finished with seven receptions for 86 yards and two scores while tight end Gary Barnidge had a career-high five catches for 112 yards for the Cardinals.

"(Brohm) had a tough start, but he's so tough mentally and he keeps playing," Petrino said.

Grothe, who set a school record with 364 yards passing a week ago in a win over Syracuse, spent most of the night on the run from the Louisville defense. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

"We knew going in that we had to put pressure on the quarterback and give them some different looks," Petrino said. "They have very fast receivers, and we did a nice job of holding them in check."

Grothe had even less success with his feet. He entered the game as South Florida's leading rusher, averaging nearly 58 yards per game on the ground. But he struggled in the face of a constant Louisville rush and finished with minus-18 yards on 15 carries.

Despite his struggles, Grothe wasn't enamored with Louisville's effort.

"We didn't play very well, we lost," he said. "They weren't as good as I thought they were going to be."

Still, the Cardinals were good enough to win their 17th straight home game and improve to 21-1 at Papa John's Stadium under Petrino.

The Bulls had their chances early, moving into Louisville territory three times in the first half, but couldn't capitalize.

Given a quarter to get on their feet, the Cardinals seemed to wake up after South Florida's Delbert Alvarado missed a 37-yard field goal a minute into the second quarter.

Louisville quickly drove 80 yards in 10 plays to take the lead as Brohm hit Douglas on a 4-yard touchdown pass. Art Carmody's 47-yard field goal gave the Cardinals a 10-0 advantage at the half.

But after letting an 18-point lead get away against Rutgers, Louisville's defense kept pressing.

"We felt like we had a chip on our shoulder," said cornerback Gavin Smart. "Last year after that big loss to them, we wanted to come out here and prove something."

While the defense spent the third quarter pushing the Bulls backward, the offense put the game away on a 1-yard touchdown run by Anthony Allen and a 5-yard scoring pass from Brohm to Douglas.

By the time the Bulls finally got the ball past midfield, they trailed by 24. Louisville's 31 points were the most allowed by the Bulls since a 31-17 loss to Pittsburgh in October 2005.

"We played some good football so far this year, but we didn't tonight," he said. "I just thought we would battle better in the second half. That part was the most disappointing."

The Cardinals know they can't get ahead of themselves: The loudest cheers were saved for the public address announcer's constant updates from the Cincinnati-Rutgers game. They're back in the race, but things are far from over.

"There are still a lot of things that can happen," Brohm said. "We just have to play our games and not worry about the rest of it. It feels good to get a victory and put the Rutgers loss behind us. We just need to keep moving forward."