LOUISVILLE — Louisville's unbeaten season survived Thursday, thanks to a stout defense.
The eighth-ranked Cardinals fought off 19-point underdog Rutgers 24-10 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
U of L (6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) led 17-0 before going into survival mode with a defense that totaled eight sacks for 46 yards in losses, plus four interceptions.
"We played great on defense," U of L Coach Charlie Strong said. "We were able to get pressure with four down (linemen) and play coverage in the back end. It was just fun to watch that game and watch how aggressive we were."
Calvin Pryor led U of L with 14 tackles and James Burgess had seven. Marcus Smith, with five tackles, led U of L with three sacks.
Louisville outgained the Scarlet Knights 461 yards to 240.
Louisville played without its leading receiver, DeVante Parker, because of a right shoulder injury.
Damian Copeland stepped up to post career highs of eight catches for 115 yards.
Teddy Bridgewater completed 21 of 31 passes for 310 yards, with two touchdowns.
Senorise Perry led the ground game with 104 yards on 13 carries, including a touchdown, for his fifth career 100-yard effort.
"Left a couple throws on the field. Had to battle through adversity," Bridgewater said. "But it's a decent performance on my behalf. It was a total team effort and I believe the guys just laid it all on the line."
Playing a Thursday night game on national TV gave the Cards a chance to send a message that they are worthy of their national ranking.
Bridgewater thought the message was sent.
"Oh, yeah. And our defense, they triggered all of that with their performance tonight with all the takeaways and all the sacks. So we just played behind our defense today and I believe we got our message through."
The Cards took a 17-7 halftime lead.
Bridgewater connected on his first four passes, the fourth setting up first-and-goal at the 3.
A holding penalty moved the Cards 10 yards back. After two runs, Bridgewater's fade for Kai De La Cruz wasn't close.
John Wallace came on and opened the scoring with a 24-yard field goal.
After an exchange of punts, Louisville got the ball back on a Burgess interception. His 39-yard return set the Cards up on Rutgers' 35.
One play later, Bridgewater found De La Cruz for a 34-yard touchdown.
That extended Bridgewater's streak to 18 straight games with a TD pass.
The Scarlet Knights (4-2, 1-1) went three-and-out on their next possession.
Louisville then drove 80 yards in seven plays to take a 17-0 lead. Perry did the honors with a 1-yard run, a play after rambling for 23.
Rutgers mounted its only scoring drive of the half, an 11-play, 70-yarder that included a fourth-down conversion.
Facing fourth-and-three at the U of L 27, the Knights put J.T. Tartacoff in the "wildcat" spot, and he passed to Tyler Kroft for 26 yards.
Next play, quarterback Gary Nova found Kroft open in the end zone.
U of L looked as if it would open the second half the same way it opened the game — with a 24-yard field goal.
But this time Jamal Merrell crashed through to block the kick, his sixth career block.
Not only did U of L come up empty on a 14-play drive, the Cards also lost De La Cruz to a hamstring injury.
Louisville's next try ended no better as Perry fumbled the ball away on his 36.
That led to a 36-yard Kyle Federico field goal, pulling Rutgers to within 17-10 with 14:10 left.
The Cards then drove from their 31 to the Rutgers' 5 before the turnover bug bit again.
Anthony Cioffi came in for a blind-side sack of Bridgewater, forcing a fumble that David Milewski recovered for the Scarlet Knights.
U of L got the ball back when Pryor picked off a Nova pass near midfield.
The Cards couldn't capitalize, though, as Wallace was wide on a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 5:52 left.
U of L got the ball back just 23 seconds later when Terrell Floyd came up with an interception.
The Cardinals then drove to the clinching touchdown, which came with 2:27 left on a 6-yard pass from Bridgewater to Eli Rogers.
LOUISVILLE 24, RUTGERS 10
Rutgers 0 7 0 3—10
Louisville 3 14 0 7—24
First quarter: L—John Wallace 24 field goal, 7:32. Second quarter: L—Kai De La Cruz 34 pass from Teddy Bridgewater (Wallace kick), 14:02. L—Senorise Perry 1 run (Wallace kick), 8:08. R—Tyler Kroft 1 pass from Gary Nova (Kyle Federico kick), 2:01. Fourth quarter: R—Federico 36 field goal, 14:10. L—Eli Rogers 6 pass from Bridgewater (Wallace kick), 2:27.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229.Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL.Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com