LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With Louisville's high-flying offense basically grounded, especially in the second half, the defense came through with eight sacks and four interceptions as the eighth-ranked Cardinals beat Rutgers 24-10 Thursday night before 55,168 in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"We played really well on defense," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "Tonight's performance was amazing.... When you can put pressure on the quarterback and you just rush four, you feel like you have a pretty good front. I think Marcus Smith and (Lorenzo) Mauldin ... are two of the best defensive ends in the country. They can rush the passer."
Smith had three sacks, and Mauldin had one.
Louisville's Heisman Trophy candidate, Teddy Bridgewater, threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns, but he handed the credit to his defensive teammates.
"Our defense, they triggered all of that with their performance tonight, with all the takeaways and all the sacks," Bridgewater said. "We just played behind our defense .. and I believe we got our message through."
"That we are one of the best teams in college football," he said. "That's the message."
After taking a 17-7 lead at halftime, Louisville (6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) was unable to score in the second half except for a late touchdown set up by the Cardinals' fourth interception.
Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) got a field goal early in the fourth quarter and had two subsequent possessions with a chance to tie, but both resulted in interceptions of Gary Nova passes.
After the second one, the Cardinals drove 60 yards to the clinching touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Bridgewater to Eli Rogers with 3:02 left.
"All of (the interceptions) are on me," Nova said. "I can't think too clearly right now, but that's on me. I can't turn it over. Credit to them. They are a great team.... We got in our way too much tonight. You can't win ballgames when you get penalties and turn it over."
Bridgewater was 21-for-31 but threw an interception in the end zone and had a fumble that thwarted a long drive.
In the fourth quarter, Louisville drove from its 31 to a second-and-2 at the Rutgers 5 in when Bridgewater fumbled on a blitz by cornerback Anthony Cioffi. The ball was recovered by David Milewski at the Rutgers 21.
"We left about 17 points on the field," Bridgewater said, referring to a blocked field goal, his fumble, and a fumble by running back Senorice Perry that stopped a drive. "We have to improve in the red zone."
Nova finished 19-for-36 for 202 yards with a TD and four interceptions. He was under constant pressure, constantly being flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run.
"Even with eight sacks, we missed on four or five," Strong said.
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said, "It's hard to talk about Gary without talking about the protection. I think there's going to be, no question, some decisions Gary would like to take back.... The biggest issue we have right now protecting him better. .... Eight sacks is not acceptable."
Bridgewater threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Kai De La Cruz early in the second quarter to give Louisville a 10-0 lead. It marked the 18th straight game in which he threw a scoring pass.
After Rutgers went three-and-out, Louisville moved ahead 17-0 after a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by Perry's 1-yard run. That came one play after a 23-yard Perry run. The final 47 yards of the march came on the ground.
Perry ended the night with 104 yards on 13 carries.
After Perry's touchdown, Rutgers went 70 yards in 11 plays for a 1-yard touchdown pass from Nova to tight end Tyler Kroft in the back of the end zone.
A 26-yard pass from J.T. Tartacoff to Kroft on a fourth-and-3 play kept the drive alive. Tartacoff lined up as the holder on a field-goal attempt, then stood up and hit a wide-open Kroft over the middle.
"We gave up a cheap touchdown at the end of the half," said Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, who led his team with 14 tackles and also had an interception. "We didn't even know what kind of formation they were in. We just came out in the second half and started playing. ...
"If they didn't know, the whole country knows what kind of defense we are. We are going to bring that each week."
Louisville took the subsequent kickoff and drove to the Rutgers 31 before Bridgewater was intercepted by Rutgers safety Jeremy Deering in the end zone.
Louisville's first score came on a 24-yard field goal by John Wallace in the first quarter.
Rutgers' other score was a 36-yard field goal by Kyle Federico early in the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Rutgers senior CB Lew Toler suffered a broken arm in the first quarter and was taken to a hospital. "Lew's parents were there with him," Flood said. "I don't have any more of an update than that." ... Louisville will play host to Central Florida (4-1, 1-0) on Oct. 18. UCF has a bye this week. Rutgers has a bye next week before playing host to Houston (4-0, 1-0) on Oct. 26. ... Rutgers junior RB Paul James missed his second consecutive game with a lower leg injury. James, who was injured in the third quarter of Rutgers' fourth game, has 573 rushing yards (7.2 per carry). He led the country in rushing after three games with 493 yards. He also has six touchdowns. ... Louisville junior WR DeVante Parker did not play because of a shoulder injury suffered last Saturday in the second quarter against Temple. That game snapped a string of 10 straight games with at least one TD catch for Parker. He has 21 receptions for 375 yards and six touchdowns this season.