LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Teddy Bridgewater failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 22 games, but No. 19 Louisville rode a stout defense and the running of Dominique Brown to a 20-13 victory over Houston on Saturday night in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Louisville (9-1, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) limited Houston (7-3, 4-2) to just 13 first downs (three in the second half) and 195 total yards, and Brown ran 27 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns, on a 13-yard run and a 3-yarder.
"You have to salute the defense," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "That team was averaging almost 40 points and more than 400 yards a game (470.2 actually), and we held them to less than 200 yards and 13 points. We shut them down."
Houston led 13-10 at halftime, but Louisville scored the first two times the Cardinals had the ball in the second half. Then the defense took over.
Houston crossed midfield only once in the second half, and then only to the Louisville 47 before being pushed back six yards and being forced to punt. The Cougars gained just 42 yards in the half and got only three first downs. On their final possession, the Cardinals had back-to-back sacks on first and second downs, bringing up a third-and-38 from the 7-yard line with 1:50 left. Quarterback John O'Korn ran 13 yards to the 20, but the Cougars' fourth-down play went for just eight yards and Louisville ran out the clock.
"I feel good about the defense right now," said Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. "The guys played hard. As a defense we had to step up in clutch moments, and we did that today."
At halftime, Strong told his team they had gotten complacent and comfortable after taking a 10-0 lead. He also told them they were going to ride Brown.
"I felt good, but this is not an individual performance," said Brown. "The O-line did a great job. Our tight end did a great job, and our quarterback is doing a great job every night with getting us in the running game."
Houston linebacker Efrem Oliphant, who led his team with 13 tackles, credited the threat of Bridgewater with setting up Brown.
"It was tough," he said. "Our team had a tough time ... especially with the quarterback they have. We were focused on if he was going to air a long pass or what, but they brought the run.... They kept us on our toes with the run pass."
Louisville took the second-half kickoff and marched 70 yards in seven plays to a 3-yard touchdown run by Brown one play after a 39-yard pass from Bridgewater to DeVante Parker. That gave Louisville a 17-13 lead with 11:09 remaining in the third quarter.
On the touchdown play, Houston safety Adrian McDonald was ejected for throwing a punch.
The Cards then forced a three-and-out and took over at their 32 after a 45-yard punt by Richie Leone.
Eleven plays later, John Wallace kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 20-13 with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
Not much happened after that except for trading punts. Louisville played it lose to the vest, and Houston could not get untracked.
"Part of it was Louisville's defense," said Houston coach Tony Levine. "They're talented, they get tackles for loss, they get sacks, and again, they give up just 10 points a game. I certainly give them credit."
On Houston's final possession, the Cougars took over at their 35 with 2:50 left. Then came the sacks by defense end Marcus Smith and defensive tackle Roy Philon, who had three tackles for loss. Smith came in leading the nation in sacks at 1.17 a game.
Bridgewater finished 19 of 29 for 203 yards. He was sacked three times. O'Korn was 16 of 35 for 121 yards. He also was sacked three times.
After Houston returned the opening kickoff 61 yards to the Louisville 39 and made one first down, the Cougars stalled, turning the ball over on downs at the 23. Louisville then marched 77 yards in 12 plays, with Brown scoring on a 13-yard run around left end to make it 7-0 with 6:33 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars made just one first down on their next two possessions, with Louisville having a three-and-out in between before the Cardinals marched 45 yards in eight plays to a 37-yard field goal by Wallace to make it 10-0 with 14:11 left in the second quarter. To that point, Houston's total offense was just 24 yards to Louisville's 128.
Houston finally got untracked after the Wallace field goal and marched 48 yards in seven plays to the Louisville 28 before stalling. Bullard then booted a 46-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 12:12 to go before halftime.
Louisville then went three-and-out and punted, and Houston moved 60 yards in 10 plays to a 4-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Farrow to tie it at 10 with 6:35 remaining before halftime.
After Louisville returned the ensuing kickoff to its own 35, the Cards again went three-and-out and punted. Houston took over at its 19 and was unable to move, punting back to Louisville. The Cardinals Michaelee Harris fumbled the punt, with the Cougars' Trevon Stewart recovering at the Louisville 39. It was Stewart's fifth recovered fumble this season, to go along with a team-leading four interceptions.
O'Korn threw an interception on third down, but Louisville was called for roughing the passer on the play, negating the interception and giving Houston a first down at the 24. Seven plays later, Houston kicker Bullard knocked in a 22-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the half.
NOTES: Louisville won 20 of its last 23 games, dating to last season. ... Teddy Bridgewater had thrown a touchdown pass in 21 straight games. ... Going into the game, Houston led the nation with a turnover margin of plus-21. The Cougars had forced multiple turnovers in 17 straight games. They forced just one Saturday while making none. ... Louisville OT Abraham Garcia was on crutches and inactive. Also inactive was WR Kai De La Cruz with a pulled hamstring.