LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — For the second week in a row, North Carolina was lamenting a poor start.
Bryn Renner threw five touchdown passes and the Tar Heels rallied from a 29-point half-time deficit, but came up short in a 39-34 loss to No. 19 Louisville on Saturday.
This one looked painfully similar to last week's loss, with Renner overcoming a rough first half to throw four second-half touchdown passes and get North Carolina within five points.
The Tars Heels recovered a fumbled kickoff at Louisville's 23 with 4:15 remaining, and a chance to complete the comeback.
The Tar Heels got to the 3 but no closer, as Renner's intended pass for Erik Highsmith on fourth down was knocked away by Andrew Johnson in the end zone.
"I'll throw it to him again 100 times if we run that play," said Renner, who finished 26 of 41 for 363 yards and five touchdowns, tying a school record. "I've got confidence he's going to make the play but the defender made the play."
Said Highsmith, "I mean, I had it. I caught it. Coming down, he (Johnson) kind of took it out. He made a good play on it."
Now comes the matter of avoiding big holes to dig out of, which has happened two weeks in a row. Last week, it was a 21-14 halftime deficit at Wake Forest before North Carolina rallied to lead with 13 unanswered points before falling 28-27 after allowing a 93-yard TD drive.
This time, the Tar Heels trailed 36-7 at the half and 39-14 early in the fourth before Renner found his groove and the defense shut down the Cardinals (3-0). Mental mistakes and two first-half turnovers were to blame, and at times North Carolina just plain looked out of it.
"We came out playing football from another universe or something," tight end Eric Ebron said. "In the second, we got back down to Earth."
It was the Tar Heels second straight game without star tailback Giovani Bernard. Receiver Jheranie Boyd also sat out.
Cardinals coach Charlie Strong is off to the best start in his three seasons with Louisville.
"At the end of the day we still won the football game," Strong said. "We have us a good team and we just need to learn how to finish."
Louisville scored on its first six possessions thanks to three first-half touchdowns and 218 yards by Bridgewater. He finished 23 of 28 for 279.
Renner hit Romar Morris for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass with 4:23 remaining to make it 39-34.