LOUISVILLE — Brock Bolen's three rushing touchdowns helped Louisville to a 42-23 win over Middle Tennessee despite inconsistent early play by quarterback Hunter Cantwell.
Bolen ran for 67 yards and Victor Anderson ran for 161 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown.
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The Blue Raiders (2-5) took advantage of two first-quarter interceptions by Cantwell. Jeremy Kelley returned the first one for a 14-yard touchdown and less than three minutes later, an interception by Ivon Hickmon set up a 39-yard pass from wide receiver Patrick Honeycutt to Phillip Tanner to give the Blue Raiders a 14-0 lead.
In the post-game news conference, Louisville Coach Steve Kragthorpe was asked what he said to his quarterback after two interceptions.
"I can't repeat what I said," Kragthorpe said with a laugh. "I challenged him and I told him you've got to settle in and lead these guys. He did it and did a nice job, but I did jump him a little bit."
Cantwell seemed equally distraught at his early play.
"Two interceptions in the first quarter is not a good thing. They did a good job," the quarterback said.
"It was just a bad day. It's one of those things, you don't want it to happen but it's football. It definitely, definitely cannot happen in this upcoming game." he added, looking ahead to No. 19 South Florida. The Bulls visit Louisville next week.
The Cardinals settled down as the game went on. Bolen ran for 1-yard scores in the third and fourth quarter, and Cantwell's 1-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Burns capped a second half in which Louisville outscored the Blue Raiders 28-6.
Early on, it looked like it would be like last season's shootout when Louisville won 58-42. The Blue Raiders ran up 555 yards of offense, compared to 306 on Saturday. The Cardinals had 391 offensive yards.
With the Blue Raiders up 14-0, Bolen scored his first touchdown on a 3-yard run up the middle.
The Cardinals forced the Blue Raiders to punt on their next series but found themselves pinned down on their own 12. Anderson's 88-yard run up the middle, the fourth longest in Louisville history, on second down tied the score at 14-14.
The running back gave some credit to his teammates on the offensive line and the stadium's big-screen TV.
"I started running, and thank God for that jumbotron," Anderson said. "If I didn't see that jumbotron, that guy would have caught me. I had to zig-zag a little bit."
The Blue Raiders went into halftime with a 17-14 lead after Alan Gendreau's 42-yard score.
Louisville's defense, ranked 30th in the nation going into the game, forced Middle Tennessee to punt on seven of eight drives after the Blue Raiders' second touchdown, and held the Blue Raiders to 93 yards of offense in the second half.
Kragthorpe rated the Louisville defense "excellent."
"The big key was we were getting them down in third and long, which allowed our defensive line to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback a little bit," he said.
Middle Tennessee switched back and forth between quarterbacks, using the more mobile Dwight Dasher instead of Joe Craddock on several possessions. Dasher finished with 31 rushing yards and 10 passing yards. Phillip Tanner led the Blue Raiders in rushing with 46 yards on 13 carries.
Louisville used its rushing game to control the clock in the second half, holding the ball for 19:33, to Middle Tennessee's 10:27.
In the forth quarter, Louisville's Johnny Patrick recovered a blocked punt in the end zone to put the game out of reach for good, and Cantwell added the insurance touchdown pass to Burns with 2:30 to play.