Cardinals clinch third C-USA title since 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- As Louisville poured on the points, linebacker Brandon Johnson was hoping the Cardinals' high-powered offense and opportunistic special teams would slow down.

Louisville struck quickly and often, beating Cincinnati 70-7 on Saturday to clinch its third Conference USA championship since 2000.

Montrell Jones caught two touchdown passes and returned a punt for a score, Eric Shelton rushed for 158 yards and Kolby Smith had three short TD runs for Louisville, which reached 70 points for the first time since 1955 despite having the ball for only 18:21.

The quick strikes never gave Johnson and the defense much of a breather.

"I told the guys after the game, 'You guys don't know anything about ball control,'" he said. "I mean, three plays, touchdown; one play, touchdown; two plays, touchdown. But that's how our offense plays. What are you going to do?"

Johnson was part of the problem. He returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Tiger Jones recovered another blocked punt in the end zone for Louisville (9-1, 7-0), which accepted the league champion's automatic bid to the Liberty Bowl after the game.

Louisville was No. 10 in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings but resigned to settling for the Dec. 31 game in Memphis.

"I'm excited to go to the Liberty Bowl," Montrell Jones said. "The closer you can play to New Year's Day, the better."

The Cardinals were unfazed by gusty winds and steady rain, piling up 357 rushing yards and 491 total yards.

Stefan LeFors, the nation's most efficient passer, had a quiet day in his final home game, going 8-of-11 for 79 yards with a TD pass. LeFors didn't mind, even with his deaf parents watching him from the stands.

"I wasn't worried. The defense was making plays and the special teams were coming up big," LeFors said. "It was a fun game to be in."

Cincinnati (6-5, 5-3), which had a four-game winning streak snapped, mustered only 186 yards without senior quarterback Gino Guidugli, who sat out with a broken bone in his throwing hand.

The Bearcats taunted the Cardinals by dancing on their midfield logo before the game.

Louisville noticed and then commenced the blowout immediately.

On the first play from scrimmage, Shelton broke a tackle and outran three defenders for an 80-yard touchdown, Louisville's longest scoring play of the season.

"There was no way they were going to come into our house and disrespect us," LeFors said. "We took it to heart and dominated."

Cincinnati backup quarterback Collin Carey, who had thrown only one pass this season, failed to move the Bearcats beyond their own 34 on their first three possessions.

Louisville cornerback Antoine Harris intercepted Carey's pass near midfield and LeFors threw a 43-yard TD pass to Montrell Jones a minute later. It was LeFors' 17th TD pass of the season and Jones' first TD reception since he transferred from Tennessee two
years ago.

In the final seconds of the first quarter, Johnson blocked Chet Ervin's punt, scooped up the loose ball and scored from 7 yards out.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino emphasized a fast start all week at practice.

"You see a little blood, you've got to seize it and take advantage of it," Petrino said. "We took advantage of it."

Petrino replaced LeFors with freshman Brian Brohm early in the second quarter, a move he's made in all but two games.

Brohm finished two crisp drives with TD passes to J.R. Russell and Jones. The seldom-used Smith tacked on a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left in the half.

The Bearcats had four turnovers and 50 total yards at halftime.

"We didn't do much of anything," Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio said. "I wish I could point to one play and say, 'This is where it happened.'"

Shelton had a 54-yard run in the third quarter to set up another short TD by Smith.

Following another sputtering Cincinnati possession, Jones fielded a punt, found a seam and sprinted down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown.

Less than two minutes later, Louisville linebacker Chad Rimpsey blocked another punt and Tiger Jones fell on the loose ball in the end zone.

Butler Benton spoiled Louisville's shutout bid with a 1-yard run for Cincinnati with 9:02 left in the game.

Louisville defeated their regional rival for the sixth time in seven meetings.