LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Not known for lavishing praise, Louisville coach Charlie Strong found himself acting out of character.
He was happy to do it after his No. 25 Cardinals thoroughly beat in-state rival Kentucky 32-14 in their opener. Offense sparked much of his elation, as the Cardinals outgained the Wildcats 466-373 and scored on five of their first seven possessions.
Strong needed to see that from his offense after the unit struggled at times last season. What he got was complete domination.
"It was just amazing to see how we just clicked on offense," Strong said of a team that scored touchdowns on its first three drives. "(Quarterback Teddy) Bridgewater had an unbelievable day. We also had two running backs to rush for over 100 yards. I told our team I have to give credit to our offensive line because they did a great job of blocking up front. They don't get enough credit."
Juniors Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry rushed for 105 and 108 yards respectively, which might be why Strong waited until just before kickoff to pick Wright as the starter in a three-way battle including Dominique Brown. Wright was the workhorse, rushing 22 times and scoring three touchdowns.
Bridgewater enhanced his promising resume, completing 10 of his first 11 passes and 19 of 21 overall, setting a school percentage record while throwing for 232 yards. What surprised Strong most was scoring on drives of 99, 85 and 93 yards without blinking.
"I do not know if I expected the offense to perform as well as they did," Strong said. "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."
Bridgewater's boost wasn't surprising, considering the sophomore was last year's Big East Rookie of the Year. What was startling was that he did it with little room for error.
A third-down completion to Damian Copeland took Louisville 23 yards to its 25, and Andrell Smith followed with a 17-yarder. Just like that, the Cardinals and their ground game had breathing room.
"That's what we pride ourselves on, that's why we work hard," Bridgewater said. "We practice game-like situations, so (Sunday) was just like practice."
Do the Cardinals practice 99-yard drives?
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. 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 they had an early opportunity and then having to play from behind even when they seemed to be 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 contained 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.
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 goal 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."