CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Louisville's fast start on offense quickly evaporated, and a gaffe on special teams was too much for the Cardinals to overcome.
No. 21 Louisville scored on its first possession, but that was its only touchdown for much of the game and a muffed punt in the fourth quarter led to Ian Frye's decisive field goal in Virginia's 23-21 win on Saturday.
"It was a lack of concentration by our offense," Cardinals running back Dominique Brown said. "We can't take anything away from them. They were out there ball-hawking, but we pretty much shot ourselves in the foot."
The Cardinals had 4 yards in the third quarter, when Virginia scored 10 points to open a 20-7 lead. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino then reinserted Will Gardner at quarterback, and it rallied to take the lead.
The play that ultimately cost the Cardinals was James Quick's fumbled punt that Virginia recovered at the 25, setting up Frye's 42-yard field goal with 3:41 remaining. Three earlier turnovers didn't help, but Petrino had a list of issues.
Louisville was 4 for 14 on third-down conversions.
"We weren't able to make the throws, we had some guys open, and then we dropped one," Petrino said. "It was kind of an accumulation of the entire team's protection, throws, catches. Just a poor job by me getting them ready."
Virginia (2-1, 1-0) ended an 11-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak and a 10-game skid against FBS-level competition. The Cardinals (2-1, 1-1) had won seven straight road games.
Greyson Lambert threw for a touchdown and ran for another score for Virginia, and Frye finished with three field goals. The winning points came after a teammate bumped into Quick as he fielded the punt, and Kelvin Rainey recovered for Virginia.
It was Virginia's first victory against a ranked team since a 14-13 win at Florida State on Nov. 19, 2011.
Lambert played most of the way for Virginia, hitting Miles Gooch for a 15-yard touchdown to tie it at 7, and scoring on a 10-yard run to give the Cavaliers a 17-7 lead in the third quarter.
Frye's 47-yard field goal made it 20-7, but then Louisville came back.
Gardner, who was pressured heavily and lifted in favor of more mobile freshman Reggie Bonnafon, returned in the fourth and led consecutive touchdown drives. He hit Keith Towbridge for 28 yards on third down, and got help from a pass interference call on linebacker Henry Coley on a third-and-8 play. Dominique Brown ran it in from the 6 to make it 20-14.
After a three-and-out for Virginia, the Cardinals put together another drive with a huge assist from the Cavaliers. On third-and-goal from the 9, Gardner had Coley and defensive end Eli Harold converging on him when he threw the ball right into the arms of linebacker Max Valles for an interception. But Coley was called for roughing.
Gardner then found Quick for a 4-yard TD pass on the next play for a 21-20 lead.
Virginia took over at its 21, reached the 39 and punted, and the turnover gave the Cavaliers another chance.
Gardner's first interception of the season set Virginia up with a short field in the first quarter. Anthony Harris made the pick, giving the Cavaliers the ball at the 15. Three plays later, Lambert hit Gooch for the score. It gave the Cavaliers 38 points after turnovers this year; last year, they had 13.
The Cardinals took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field. Gardner had completion of 11 yards to Quick, 20 yards to Eli Rogers and 9 yards to Kai De La Cruz. The latter set up a fourth-and-1 from the Virginia 9, and Gardner hit Charles Standberry for the touchdown off a play-action fake.
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