TAMPA — A.J. Love's performance Saturday was a welcome sign for an offense that sputtered last week at Rutgers.
USF got a much-needed boost from the junior wide receiver, who had a career-high 121 yards, and the Bulls earned a 34-22 victory over Louisville at Raymond James Stadium without leading receiver Carlton Mitchell, who has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain for three weeks.
"It just tells you that we do have receivers in this program, and A.J. has stepped up and I'm just so proud of what he's done," USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. "Once we get Carlton back, it's going to be nice to have those two big cats out there because they are beautiful."
Love finished with four catches and came up with grabs for big yards while the Bulls were in a topsy-turvy battle against the Cardinals.
"I was focused, and today was about determination," Love said. "You have to be determined to go out and make plays when your number is being called."
Saturday was the second consecutive game Mitchell missed, but receivers coach Phil McGeoghan said Love has been consistent during that time, emerging as USF's go-to target despite the offense's struggles last week.
"He knew that … that we needed him and this is something he was preparing for all week to be ready to go," he said.
The Bulls, holding a 17-16 halftime lead, needed momentum to start the third quarter. USF got an impressive 80-yard scoring drive that included two crucial third-down catches by Love.
The first came on third and 7 from USF's 41. Redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels found Love bursting up the sideline and connected with him for a gain of 25. Four plays later, Love had a 14-yard grab on third and long, setting up a 20-yard scoring scamper by Daniels on the following play.
"A.J. stepped up. He's a big-time receiver and made plays, especially on those third downs," Daniels said.
As the Bulls built a lead in the third quarter, Love continued to make those plays, including a 37-yard catch across the middle of the field, despite taking crunching hits from two defenders.
By the end of the third quarter, Love had surpassed the 100-yard mark — the first in his career.
Love also had a 45-yard reception midway through the first quarter. Shortly after, running back Mo Plancher's score on a 2-yard run gave the Bulls a 14-0 lead.
"(Love) was important. Carlton is still down with the ankle and hopefully he'll be back next week," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "A.J. had a great game."