The Louisville Cardinals thought they would have to use offense to beat Brigham Young. The defense made that plan unnecessary.
Dave Ragone threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense came up with five sacks and three interceptions as No. 23 Louisville beat No. 19 Brigham Young 28-10 Monday in the Liberty Bowl.
Ragone described the defensive play as unbelievable.
"They shut down one of the best offenses I've ever seen," he said of the Cougars, who own the nation's top unit.
For BYU (12-2), the loss marked yet another disappointing end to a season that held the promise of an undefeated season just a month ago.
The Cougars lost their third straight bowl game and 10th in their last 14 despite an offense that averaged 542.8 yards per game and set a school record by averaging 46.7 points a game. But All-American running back Luke Staley, the nation's leading scorer, was out because of ankle surgery.
Louisville kept the Cougars from finding a rhythm.
The defense held BYU quarterback Brandon Doman to 18-of-37 for 192 yards. The defense repeatedly gave the Louisville offense a short field, and three of the Cardinals' TD drives were 54 yards or shorter.
"They were kind of pushing up and waiting for me to run around and do some things," Doman said. "I wish I could go back and play that game again because we had some other plays in mind, and we just simply had some miscues."
Defensive tackle Bobby Lefew and his teammates hoped they could keep the Cougars to 25 points. They wound up limiting BYU to its lowest point total of the season and a season-low 276 yards.
"We knew we had to hold them down, so our offense could outscore them, and that's what we did," Lefew said.
The victory allowed the Cardinals to finish off the best season in school history.
The Cardinals hadn't won a bowl game since the 1993 Liberty Bowl, a three-game skid that included a loss to Colorado State here last year. They improved to 11-2 for the most victories in a season, topping the 1990 mark of 10-1-1, their only other year with double-digit wins.
"This is something we needed," Louisville senior receiver Deion Branch said. "We've been dying to get it. It was just something that was there for us, and we haven't taken it. There was an opportunity today, and we took advantage of it."
Ragone, Conference USA's offensive player of the year, tossed TD passes of 1, 34 and 27 yards. He was 19-of-28, and Branch had six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Everyone expected a high-scoring game, and it looked like the teams would oblige as Zek Parker took the opening kickoff 70 yards for Louisville, and Henry Miller scored from 1 yard out four plays later for a 7-0 lead.
But Louisville kept BYU scoreless through the first quarter for only the third time this season, and the Cougars needed some trickery to finally reach the end zone. Doman lateralled to left tackle Dustin Rykert, and he ran 10 yards for the score and a 7-7 tie with 7:56 left in the second quarter.
The Cougars tried another trick play late in the first half, lining up for a punt on fourth-and-5 and snapping the ball short to Ned Stearns. But Rod Day stopped him for no gain, turning the ball over at the BYU 40 with 2:16 left.
Ragone moved the Cardinals 40 yards over nine plays, tossing a 1-yarder to tight end Chip Mattingly just before halftime for a 14-7 lead.
Cougars coach Gary Crowton said that gave the Cardinals momentum going into halftime.
"At that time, I felt like they wouldn't be expecting it, but we didn't execute it well, and they did a good job defensively. But I was hoping to get a big play in the last two minutes so that we would have momentum because we got the ball in the second half ... It just didn't work, and my hat's off to them," he said.
BYU had chances to keep the game close, but the Cardinals came up with an interception in each half to end drives in their own territory. The second came at the end of the third quarter when Curry Burns picked off Doman's pass at the Louisville 17 and the Cardinals up 21-10.
Ragone needed only five plays to score, finding Ronnie Ghent for a 27-yard TD and a 28-10 lead.