The second half has become a weekly disaster for Louisville, which can't seem to hang on.
Isaiah Pead made two quick cutbacks and ran 50 yard for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday, rallying Cincinnati to a 25-16 victory over Louisville in the Big East opener for both teams at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bearcats (5-1) got their first victory in three games overall at the NFL Bengals' stadium, overcoming four fumbles - all of which they recovered - and Zach Collaros' costly interception.
Mike Evans returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown and a 16-7 Louisville lead with 6 seconds left in the half.
That was it for the Cardinals (2-4), who have been outscored 42-7 in the second halves of their last three games, all losses.
"We're not going out in the second half and finishing the game," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "Right now, that's our issue. We're not finishing the second half."
Collaros ran 1 yard for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal in the third quarter, and Pead scored for the sixth straight game. Pead finished with 151 yards on 20 carries against the Big East's top defense. Collaros was 18 of 26 for 152 yards with one touchdown and his fourth interception of the season.
"We didn't stop Isaiah Pead," Cardinals linebacker Dexter Heyman said. "We really didn't stop Zach Collaros down the stretch."
Louisville's offense struggled again, managing only three field goals despite using two quarterbacks.
The game drew 40,971 fans, only 171 fewer than the Bengals had for their last home game.
Louisville came in with the Big East's top defense, allowing no more than 24 points in any game. The problem: Louisville hadn't scored more than 24 in any game, either.
The Cardinals stalled in the last two games after quarterback Will Stein went down with a shoulder injury. Freshman Teddy Bridgewater took over and has led the offense to only 29 points in three losses. Plus, running back Victor Anderson missed a second straight game Saturday with a sprained ankle.
Bridgewater was 17 of 28 for 195 yards with an interception and four sacks. Stein played two series and went 2 of 4 for 6 yards, unable to get the inexperienced, injury-depleted offense moving, either.
"We're taking tremendous steps," Bridgewater said. "We're such a young team. Every day is a learning experience."
Chris Philpott, who had made only 2 of his 5 field goal attempts coming in, was good from 42, 51 and 18 yards on a blustery
afternoon, putting the Cardinals up 9-7 late in the half. The last field goal was set up by Bridgewater's perfect throw down the sideline to Eli Rogers for a 58-yard gain.
The Cardinals then got their first defensive touchdown of the season, the interception return that made it 16-7 at halftime. Collaros shook it off and led the Bearcats back.
"I think we come in at halftime and we lose our juice," defensive end Greg Scruggs said. "Sometimes we give up a big play and we get down."
Collaros made a gamble pay off in the third quarter. The Bearcats went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Collaros took it in off a draw play, cutting the lead to 16-14.
Louisville then self-destructed, piling up two false starts, an illegal formation and a holding penalty on one series that set up a third-and-38 and led to a punt. Two plays later, Pead was off on his decisive 50-yard touchdown run. Collaros completed a pass for the two-point conversion.
Bridgewater's fourth-and-3 pass at midfield fell incomplete with 3:05 left, ending Louisville's last chance to catch up. Pead had runs of 21 and 12 yards, setting up the clinching field goal with 1:21 to go.