Teddy Bridgewater threw three first-half touchdowns and No. 19 Louisville scored on its first six possessions, and then had to hold off North Carolina with a late defensive stand to come away with a 39-34 victory on Saturday. Bryn Renner
settled down from a rough first half to rally the Tar Heels (1-2) from a 36-7 deficit with four second-half touchdowns, including a screen pass to Romar Morris for a 50-yard touchdown with 4:23 remaining.
North Carolina's Norkeithus Otis then forced Adrian Bushell to fumble the ensuing kickoff, and the Tar Heels recovered at the Cardinals' 10. But after moving to the 3, North Carolina was penalized for a false start. Two plays later Renner's fourth-down pass intended for Erik Highsmith was batted away in the end zone by Andrew Johnson with 1:44 left.
Bridgewater threw for 279 yards for the Cardinals (3-0), 218 in the first half. He finished 23 of 28. Renner was 26-of-41 passing for 363 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.
"It was just a tale of two halves," Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said.
It marked a second consecutive close loss for North Carolina (1-2), which rallied from a 21-14 deficit to briefly lead at Wake Forest before ultimately falling 28-27. It was also the Tar Heels second straight game without star tailback Giovani Bernard. Receiver Jheranie Boyd also sat out.
At the start, North Carolina was out of sync and dug its hole with two first-half turnovers that Louisville quickly converted. Right after Louisville marched 62 yards for its first touchdown and a 6-0 lead, Renner lofted a pass right at Louisville's Marcus Smith. Bridgewater made it 12-0 on the next play, eluding the rush to find Charles Gaines wide open in the end zone on a post pattern.
After John Wallace's 22-yard field goal made it 15-0, Renner hit Morris for 15 yards, which would have left the Tar Heels with fourth down. But he fumbled after coming down with the ball, upheld on review, and was recovered by Adrian Bushell at North Carolina's 45.
Seven plays later Bridgewater hit Eli Rogers for a 15-yard score with the sophomore alone for the final 10. A rout was building at that point, and the Cardinals didn't let up. Louisville went into sustained-drive mode, at least by its standards. The Cardinals went 84 yards but in just five plays, highlighted by Bridgewater's 36-yard crossing pass to Andrell Smith for first down at the Tar Heels' 44 and an 11-yarder to Scott Radcliffe.
Wright carried twice for the final 33 yards, capped by a 12-yard run. The next one went 10 plays and 69 yards, ending with Nick Heuser's 4-yard TD pass from Bridgewater. North Carolina got on the board with Renner's 44-yard scoring pass to Morris, cutting the lead to 29-7. The junior also hit Eric Ebron for a 2-yard TD in the third quarter and Highsmith for a 9-yard score early in the fourth.