Tampa, Fla. — Amarri Jackson saw no reason why South Florida shouldn't beat Louisville.
"I'm not saying Louisville is a bad team. They're a great team," the sophomore receiver said Saturday night after running for two touchdowns and throwing for a third to pace a 45-14 rout of the ninth-ranked Cardinals in the Bulls' Big East debut. "I just thought we were just as good as them talent-wise."
After barely playing a role in the offense in his team's first three games, Jackson was Mr. Versatile in helping South Florida (3-1) beat a ranked opponent for the first time in six tries and stop the nation's third-longest Division I-A winning streak at nine games.
Louisville (2-1) had not lost since a 41-38 setback Oct. 14 at Miami. The Cardinals entered the Big East opener with one of the country's most prolific offenses, but never fully got on track in losing to South Florida on the road for the second time in three years.
USF, which is in its ninth season, also stunned Louisville two years ago in the Bulls' Conference USA debut. The Bulls and Cardinals left C-USA for the higher-profile Big East after last season.
"This is the type of game that challenges a team's leadership," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We can either come together or fall apart."
Jackson, who had two receptions for 15 yards in South Florida's first three games, set up Andre Hall's one-yard, first-quarter TD run with a 57-yard catch-and-run on the Bulls' second offensive play.
The 6-foot-5 receiver scored on a 51-yard reverse up the right side of the field to make it 14-0, then circled around the left end on a 12-yard reverse for a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Three minutes after South Florida's Chad Simpson returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, Jackson struck again when took a handoff from quarterback Pat Julmiste and tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Derek Carter to put the Bulls ahead 38-7.
Louisville's second fumble set up the touchdown pass.
"We felt good about our ability to come back in the second half, but the kick return and fumble really swung the momentum in their favor," Petrino said. "We needed to make plays. But as it turned out, USF was the team able to do that."
Jackson finished with 63 yards rushing on two carries and two receptions for 75 yards. Hall, who added a three-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, gained 83 rushing on 22 attempts, while Julmiste was 4-for-9 for 93 yards passing.
"We still haven't seen our best performance yet. I just don't believe we have," Jackson said. "Once we connect, it's going to scary."
Despite the lopsided score, Louisville again compiled some gaudy offensive statistics with Brian Brohm completing 29 of 47 passes for 389 yards, and the Cardinals amassing 493 yards total offense to South Florida's 355.
But Brohm was intercepted once and stymied repeatedly by penalties and a relentless pass rush.