LOUISVILLE, Ky. (REUTERS) — Nathan Smith kicked three field goals and Louisville scored 16 points off three Southern Mississippi turnovers in a 24-14 victory Tuesday night.
Dave Ragone threw for 186 yards and a touchdown for Louisville (6-1, 2-0 Conference USA), which beat the Golden Eagles for the second straight year following five straight losses in the series.
Jeff Kelly threw for 213 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles (3-2, 0-2). He also committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles led 14-6 when Kelly fumbled at the Southern Miss 9 with 12:54 left. Scott Lopez recovered for Louisville, and sophomore tight end Richard Owens made his second career touchdown catch on the next play.
Ragone fumbled the snap from center Ariel Rodriguez on the 2-point conversion, but picked up the ball and found J.R. Russell wide open in the end zone to tie it at 14.
Safety Anthony Floyd then intercepted Kelly’s pass near midfield three minutes later, setting up Smith’s 37-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining.
Floyd, who had three interceptions against Southern Miss last season, moved into second place on Louisville’s career list with his 15th pickoff.
The Eagles reached midfield on their final drive, but Jeromy Freitag sacked Kelly and forced a fumble. Chad Lee recovered and ran to the 2 with 1:27 remaining, and Tony Stallings scored on Louisville’s next play.
Southern Miss’ first miscue helped Louisville to a 3-0 lead.
Kenneth Johnson fumbled a punt five minutes into the game, setting up Smith’s career-long 48-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the first quarter.
Chris Johnson atoned for his cousin’s mistake a minute later, taking a screen pass from Kelly and outrunning Louisville’s defense down the middle of the field for a 73-yard scoring play.
Louisville’s offense struggled for most of the first half, losing yardage on 10 of its first 23 plays.
Ragone got the Cardinals moving late in the second quarter, going 6-for-6 on a 14-play drive. Smith kicked a 28-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the half to cut Southern Miss’ lead to 7-6.
The Eagles mounted a long drive of its own early in the third quarter, going 86 yards in 13 plays. Tight end Bobby Garner got the ball on a reverse from the Louisville 6 and hit a wide-open Kelly in the end zone for a 14-6 lead.
Southern Miss, Conference USA’s worst rushing team, gained only 7 yards on the ground.
Louisville has 21 takeaways this season, tied for second in the nation.