LOUISVILLE — Louisville's Anthony Conner didn't play a down Saturday against Syracuse, but he got a game ball nonetheless.
Conner's surprise visit to the locker room just days after surgery to stabilize a broken neck he suffered against Rutgers last week fired up the Cardinals and helped them to a quick start and dominating defensive performance in an emotional 27-10 win over the Orange.
"They're playing for AC now," Coach Charlie Strong said. "That's what it's all about."
Teddy Bridgewater passed for two touchdowns and Victor Anderson rushed for 93 yards and a score, leading the Cardinals to the most points they've scored this season. Bridgewater staked Louisville to a quick 14-0 lead and the defense stymied Syracuse throughout, holding the Orange to a season-low 246 yards a week after it scored 49 against then-No. 11 West Virginia.
Conner visited the Cardinals (4-4, 2-1 Big East) in the locker room before the game, smiling but staying silent as his teammates cheered at his appearance. That emotion carried over into a big-play first quarter that helped the Cardinals to consecutive Big East Conference wins for the first time since 2006.
Bridgewater's scoring passes of 42 yards to DeVante Parker just 2 minutes into the game and 2 yards to Josh Chichester with 2:36 left in the opening quarter gave Louisville's defense enough cushion to really open up on Syracuse. The Cardinals held the Orange (5-3, 1-2) to just 84 yards rushing and sacked quarterback Ryan Nassib five times, including two from Preston Brown, as they snapped Syracuse's four-game conference road winning streak. Louisville, among the nation's leaders in scoring defense and total defense, also had 15 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble.
"We just really want to play like Anthony," Bridgewater said of the senior cornerback from Houston. "He inspired us all. He always played hard and we want to do that for him."
The Orange, which needs just one more win to become bowl eligible for the second season, didn't achieve a first down until its third drive and penetrated Louisville's 35 just twice. Its West Coast offense, predicated on short passes, was no match for the long third downs Louisville set up with its aggressiveness. Syracuse was 3-for-14 on third-down conversions, including 10 failed passes.
"That was tough," Nassib said. "The third-and-long isn't really a manageable down for us. They did bring a lot of heat. That situation isn't really ... a high percentage for us."
Nassib threw for Syracuse's only touchdown with 1:31 left in the game, but even then the Orange needed a roughing-the-passer penalty to move deep into Cardinals territory.