By GARY GRAVES, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville coach Charlie Strong had concerns about how his team would start the season, despite a No. 25 ranking and the top spot in the preseason Big East picks.
If the opener Sunday against Kentucky was any indication, Strong had nothing to worry about. Starting the game on the 1 turned out to be no trouble for the Cardinals, who simply drove the length of the field for a touchdown that set the tone for a 32-14 victory.
How easy was it? Louisville's next two scoring drives covered 85 and 93 yards and how quickly it happened depended on whose hands were on the ball.
"I do not know if I expected the offense to perform as well as they did," Strong said after his team outgained Kentucky 466-373. "A lot of the time you just don't know how well guys will play together and get in sync. They were able to get in sync, stay in sync and move the ball up and down the field."
Credit sophomore Teddy Bridgewater for getting things going on that first drive, taking the Cardinals from third down on their 2 up to the 42 with consecutive completions to Damian Copeland and Andrell Smith. Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry took the cue and then took off, with Wright rushing for three touchdowns and Perry adding a 47-yard touchdown run.
"That's what we pride ourselves on, that's why we work hard," said Bridgewater, who finished with 232 yards on 19-of-21 passing, a school record for completion percentage. "We practice game-like situations, so (Sunday) was just like practice."
Do the Cardinals practice 99-yard drives, he was asked on follow-up.
Wright meanwhile ran for 105 yards, showing how happy he was to win a three-way battle for the starting running back's job with Perry and Dominique Brown. He was considered the favorite all week, but Strong waited until just before game time before listing him as the starter.
When he wasn't finding room through holes provided by an offensive line that had its own agenda, Wright was creating space on his own with 22 carries. Perry's career-long run ended up making things easier in the second half as Louisville simply tried to maintain its up-tempo.
No matter who was running, they each ended up outgaining Kentucky (93 rushing yards) all by themselves.
"It was a team effort and everybody pushed each other in practice," Wright said, "and we got it done because of execution."
Louisville's reward for this domination was the Governor's Cup for the second year in a row, given to the winner between the two universities. The Cardinals also ended a three-game home losing streak to Kentucky.
As for those bragging rights, Strong suggested that they go beyond two schools just 70 miles apart.
"Anytime you play a rival game, you want to go win the football game and that is what our focus was," Strong said. "Not only that game, but we want to win them all if we possibly can...
"I will say this: We still have a lot to learn and to improve upon. But, just seeing a Big East team beat an SEC team speaks volumes."
The Wildcats' biggest problem was not matching the Cardinals' intensity when it had an early opportunity and then having to play from behind even when they seemed to be showing some gaining some footing.
But other than a 75-yard scoring drive that briefly brought Kentucky within 8-7 in the first quarter, the Wildcats' offense found little room against a defense that had sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith covered in many facets.
Smith completed 35 of 50 passes for 280 yards but was sacked twice. The Wildcats also committed two turnovers.
"I thought I played pretty well, a lot of improvements I need to make little small things I need to adjust on," said Smith, whose three starts late last season led to him earning the job outright this year.
"My O-line played great and as well as the running backs. ... "Overall we did a pretty good job. You can't go 2-for-6 in the red zone; that's what killed us."
Kentucky started promisingly, driving 34 yards to Louisville's 41 before the drive stalled on consecutive passes that started slowly and gained little yardage. The Wildcats then forced the Cardinals to start from their 1 when Kai Dominguez fumbled a line-drive punt after being hit by Martarvius Neloms.
After Bridgewater and Wright rallied the Cardinals from that initial setback, they made it 15-7 on Perry's run and 22-7 on Wright's 14-yarder. Freshman John Wallace added a 22-yard field and Wright capped it with another 1-yard run.
La'Rod King caught a 5-yard TD pass from Smith in the third quarter to cut the lead, but the tone had been set and the Wildcats just tried to stay within sight of a Louisville team intent on distancing itself.
"We beat ourselves," King said. "We are much better than this. Saying this is the first game is a bunch of bull in my opinion. We prepared way too hard and way better than we showed out here today."
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