Louisville and Rutgers. We’ve seen this before. In Piscataway late in the season BCS opportunity for both schools ESPN Thursday night. On November 9, 2006 Louisville had a dream of a national title crushed after blowing a 25-7 lead and was capped off when Rutgers’ kicker Jeremy Ito split the uprights after a William Gay offside penalty gave Ito another opportunity after a miss and ultimately gave Rutgers the 28-25 victory.
At the time of the game, Louisville was rated #3 in the BCS standings with 1-loss Florida, Texas, USC, and Auburn firmly behind the Cards. Ahead of Louisville was Ohio State and Michigan who of course play one another every year in the final game of their seasons. Louisville only needed to win its final 4 games and find itself in the national championship. As it happened, Texas lost their final two games, Auburn fell to Georgia, and UCLA beat USC. Louisville would have played Ohio State for the national title, but instead the Florida Gators beat Arkansas for the SEC Title and then ran the Buckeyes off the face of the earth in the BCS Title Game in Glendale, AZ. Ohio State could gain just 82 yards in the title game, a fact which everyone seems to forget.
That Louisville vs. Rutgers game shaped the entire college football landscape in 2006. After Ito’s kick, the Cards fell to #10, and would eventually recover to #6 following an Orange Bowl win over Wake Forest. Rutgers would climb to #6 in the BCS rankings, but would go on to lose two of their next three games allowing Louisville to win the league outright.
Ito’s kick would serve a greater purpose as it inspired Anthony Starego, who is autistic, to become a kicker after he witnessed Ito take down the Cardinals with his leg. Starego is now 18 years old, and kicked a game-winner of his own for his Brick High School to beat Toms River North, video is below. Starego had been in 11 different foster homes by the time he reached 3 years old after being removed from his mother’s care as an infant and was considered unadoptable. The Starego family took Anthony on as they were unable to have children of their own, and their tireless efforts in raising him have inspired me through his story and YouTube video. Please click the link above and watch the video. As much as it hurt to lose to Rutgers that day, knowing that our loss inspired Starego makes it all a little easier to deal with.
This year, RIGHT NOW, in 2012 Louisville & Rutgers will play for ONE spot with ONE game remaining for ONE BCS bid. The game on Thursday in Piscataway gives Rutgers its first opportunity to win a Conference Title in the Big East, and just their 4th in school history. Regardless of what happens, RU will win at least a ‘share’ of the conference crown as they are the only team in the league with just 1 loss…..BUT this game is for the Big East’s BCS bid. Louisville had an opportunity last week with Rutgers losing to Pittsburgh 27-6, but instead dropped a triple overtime contest to UConn. With both teams being ranked and losing on Saturday you have to wonder just how large Thursday Night’s game really impacted these two teams focus. Personally I think Pitt & UConn were worthy opponents to begin with, but when a team plays with one eye on next week they get themselves beat. The winner on Thursday night will still most assuredly get the BCS bid which will either be to the Orange or Sugar Bowl. This game is EVERYTHING, it’s the whole year for both programs.
Rutgers and Louisville have met 11 times starting in 1976. Rutgers won the first 4 match-ups from ’76 to ’86, but when the Cards met the Scarlet Knights 20 years later in 2005 Louisville put up a huge number 56-5. In 2006 & 2007 the two schools traded wins in a couple of 3 point margin games, before Rutgers returned the beat down from 2005 in 2008 during the season finale (with a bowl bid on the line) with 671 total yards in 63-14 thrashing of the Cards. Mike Teel was 21 of 26 for 447 yards and 7 Touchdowns in that game. However, since that game Louisville hasn’t lost to Rutgers winning 3 in a row. Charlie Strong is 2-0 against Rutgers and in 2010 the Cards exploded for an unexpected 40-13 win with Will Stein replacing Justin Burke at Quarterback. And then there was last year.
Last year Louisville limped into the Rutgers game with a 2-4 record. The offensive line was a mess, the Cards had lost 3 straight, and Anthony Conner broke his neck during the game while trying to tackle Mohamed Sanu. I was really struck with the Rutgers’ sideline who all came onto the field and took a knee. Of course, the Scarlet Knights know all too well about neck injuries after Eric LeGrand’s injury. Luckily Anthony Conner was OK and has made a full recovery.
The game was a defensive one. It finished as a 16-14 win for the Cards, but Rutgers really should have had a better showing. I actually named the Rutgers team “Sanu & The Droppers” featuring Gary Nova due to all of the dropped balls from the RU receivers, none more costly than the one late in the 4th quarter to Mark Harrison. Harrison was W-I-D-E open and dropped a ball that probably would have won the game for Rutgers. Louisville needs a break on the season, and Harrison’s drop changed their fortunes almost entirely.
Louisville did intercept Gary Nova 3 times in 2011 and Sanu made up for nearly ALL of Nova’s production. The Rutgers running game was also largely stalled. But the Cards weren’t all that impressive moving the ball either. Teddy Bridgewater was making his 4th career start and the offensive line was finally in its usual rotation. Also important to note that this was Calvin Pryor’s first start of the year, and since he replaced Shenard Holton as a starter at Free Safety, Louisville football is 14-3. Still the Cards were able to out-gain Rutgers by 11 yards and the turnovers and drops were the main difference in the ball game. Jeremy Wright also run huge on 11 carries for 109 yards and was on fire.
You can read my game review from last year here.
|Strength of Schedule (Congrove)
|Scoring Offense (ppg)
|Total Offense (ypg)
|Passing Offense (ypg)
|Rushing Offense (ypg)
|Scoring Defense (ppg)
|Total Defense (ypg)
|Passing Defense (ypg)
|Rushing Defense (ypg)
|First Downs (per game)
|Opponent First Downs (per game)
|Turnover Margin (season)
|Time of Possession
|Sacks (per game)
|Sacks Allowed (per game)
|Tackles for Loss (per game)
|Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game)
|Passes Defended (per game)
|Fumbles Recovered (season)
|Fumbles Forced (season)
|Fumbles Lost (season)
|3rd Down Conversions (%)
|Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (%)
|Red Zone Conversions (%)
|Opponent Red Zone Conversions (%)
|Field Goal %
|Opponent Field Goal %
|Punt Returns (ypr)
|Kickoff Returns (ypr)
|Opponent Punt Returns (ypr)
|Opponent Kickoff Returns (ypr)
|Kicks/Punts Blocked (season)
Louisville Offense vs. Rutgers Defense
This is going to be a BATTLE. Rutger’s defense is easily the top unit in the Big East. Teddy Bridgewater is one of the best Quarterbacks in all of college football. Unfortunately Teddy Bridgewater will be a lot different on Thursday than he has been all season. Teddy took a pounding worse than the Belk Bowl against the Connecticut Huskies as Louisville’s lack of a running game allowed the Huskies to pin their ears back and go after the sophomore signal-caller. Teddy had to leave the game twice, once due to a broken wrist, and then in overtime due to an injured ankle. The ankle could be fine, but the wrist certainly won’t be.
The wrist injury is what I am going to focus on because it changes Louisville’s offense. On Saturday Bridgewater could not go under center to receive snaps with the cast on his left hand and was in shotgun throughout the 2nd half. This really limited Louisville’s run game even more than it already is with Senorise Perry being out for the year with an ACL tear. Against the Scarlet Knights, I expect to see A LOT of passing and almost exclusively shotgun and pistol formations on Thursday night as a result of Bridgewater’s wrist.
Rutgers’ defense is incredibly talented. They aren’t in the backfield as much as UConn, but they are more effective overall. It all starts upfront with Defensive Tackles Jamil Merrell (6-2, 260, Jr.) and Scott Vallone (6-3, 275, Sr.). Together these two guys are REALLY effective on the inside. Their production is very high compared to your typical space eating Defensive Tackles. These two patrol the middle. Scott Vallone has 46 tackles, 9.5 behind the line of scrimmage while Jamil has 32 tackles and 7.5 TFLs Together Vallone and Merrell are a nightmare inside, they are a huge reason for the success of this defense. The Cards need to be careful with the stunt package Rutgers will use to disguise the pressure with these guys. Vallone has started 49 consecutive games, which is the most of any active player in the Big East, his motor doesn’t stop and he’s a chore.
Defensive Ends Marcus Thompson (6-2, 260, Jr.), Ka’Lial Glaud (6-2, 230, Sr.) are solid contributors but they really must play their positions to make this defense work. They do a good job of containing edges and playing their assignments. These guys hold their own and it’s interesting to see the tackle production flip-flop between the ends and the tackles. But really these guys play a little wider and create a little funnel for Rutgers’ DT and Linebackers.
The RU linebacker corps is led by WLB Khaseem Greene (6-1, 230, Sr.). Green was 1st team All-Big East in 2011 and co-Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll be 1st Team All-Big East again in 2012 and probably won’t share the honor. If he played in the PAC-12, Big 12, ACC, SEC, C-USA, OBGYN, AARP, USOC, whatever league you want to put him in……he’d be first team. Period. After scouring games for Louisville & Kentucky all season the only player I really would put above Greene at this point would be South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick would be right up there as would Southern Miss’ Jaime Collins. But back to Khasheem Greene, on the year Greene has 115 tackles, 10 behind the line, 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 7 passes defended, 7 Quarterback hits, 6 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Greene was named National Defensive Player of the Week after their victory over Syracuse, and is 5 All-Time on Rutgers’ Career Tackler list and is a Bednarik Award Finalist. Last year Greene had 7 tackles against the Cards.
LB Jamal Merrell (6-4, 220, Jr.) Merrell is 3rd on the team in tackles with 70, including 8 TFL, and forced fumble and 2 blocked kicks. Merrell leads Rutgers in blocked kicks and that’s something Louisville REALLY needs to get ready for as the Scarlet Knights lead the country in blocked kicks with 8! Merrell has 4 blocks in his career and has a real knack for getting to the ball. MLB Steve Beauharnais (6-2, 230, Sr.), is Butkus Award Semi-finalist and is putting together a nice season as well with 68 tackles, 4 TFLs, and an INT. With Greene’s production I’m suprised there are still tackles to be had. These two do a real nice job of filling in the gaps.
Free Safety Duron Harmon (6-1, 200, Sr.) was 1st Team All-Big East in 2011. Harmon currently has 39 tackles, 1 INT, and 1 recovered fumble on the season. He isn’t playing at the same high-level as he was in 2011, but he is still a very good safety on a really good defense. Strong Safety Lorenzo Waters (6-0, 200, Soph) is the only non-junior or senior on the Rutgers’ defense and he is fitting in perfectly. Waters is 5th in tackles with 59, 4.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. These two guys area nice duo who don’t have to worry too much about the run thanks to the guys in front of them. This is an ideal situation for a defense.
Cornerbacks Marcus Cooper (6-2, 190, Sr.) & Logan Ryan (6-0, 190, Jr.) are both bigger than your average corner. Logan Ryan was 2nd Team All-Big East in 2011, and is currently a Jim Thorpe Semi-Finalist. Cooper has one interception and a blocked kick to his credit, while Ryan is 2nd in tackles for Rutgers with 77, 4 TFLs, 4 INTs, 18 passes defended, and 2 recovered fumbles. The Scarlet Knights do a lot more with Logan Ryan but these two guys have held their own all season.
Punter Justin Doerner (6-2, 200, Sr.) was 2nd Team All-Big East in 2011, but he’s not punting that way this year. In fact, both Louisville and Rutgers haven’t really had a player stick a boot into the ball consistently all year while punting. Louisville isn’t much of a threat to get big returns so I expect a lot of short fair catches.
I think it’s pretty clear just looking at the rosters that Rutgers’ defense is really good. But a team has to figure out a way to attack it. Louisville is down to one of its two main running backs that it has used all year (apologies to Corvin Lamb), Rutgers is 11th in Rushing Defense and 32nd in Passing Defense. Neither option is really a good one to attack, especially when you consider Louisville’s health situation with no Senorise Perry and a banged up Teddy Bridgewater. But the choice is clear: Louisville is going to throw the ball. Bridgewater can not go under center and will be in shotgun or pistol throughout the game and I think the Cards go with the lesser of two evils (Rutgers’ Pass Defense) rather than try and go through the teeth of the Scarlet Knight’s Run Defense out of the shotgun with just one running back.
This can be a dangerous scenario as the defense could decide to just rush and go for broke and could really get Bridgewater beat up. So I expect some screens and draws, and maybe a little read option if Teddy is feeling up to take some hits. Also some quick slants, so offensive lineman keeping the line’s hands down will be key. The Cardinal receivers can NOT drop passes like they did last week and expect to win. This game is going to come down to who executes, and Louisville MUST execute against the Rutgers defense or risk seeing a similar performance from last week.
Rutgers Offense vs. Louisville Defense
Where Rutgers’ defense is REALLY good, Rutgers’ offense is limited by design because of their defense. Rutgers wants to run the ball and has a playcall ratio of 367 run/328 pass on the season and really like to play field position and let their opponent make the mistake. The Scarlet Knights are primarily a two-back system with RB: Jawan Jamison (5-8, 200, Soph) and Savon Huggins (6-0, 200, Soph) with Jamison getting most of the workload on the ground and through the air. Jamison gets 91.3 yards per game on 20.86 carries per game, so he’s going to get the ball and has 1004 yards on the year. Quarterback Gary Nova (6-2, 225 Soph) targets Jamison out of the backfield 2-3 times per game and Jamison is a real threat with the ball in his hands. Huggins will spell Jamison and both of these guys do a real nice job of NOT LOSING YARDS. Together these two make what Rutgers is trying to do as a team possible.
Gary Nova is someone I thought had a lot of moxy in 2011 as a true freshman. Nova was victimized for 3 INTs against the Cards as well as a truckload of drops from the Scarlet Knight receivers not named Sanu. If we are honest, even with 3 INTs Nova played well enough to beat UofL last year, he just didn’t have a lot of help from those around him. BUT 3 interceptions is a lot in a game, and Nova threw SIX INTERCEPTIONS against Kent State in what was Rutgers first loss of the season. Nova has 13 interceptions on the season and did throw one against Pitt last week in Rutgers’ second loss of the season. But Nova hasn’t been all bad in 2012, quite the contrary in fact. Nova has done enough for Rutgers to win 9 games and throw for 2282 yards and 20 TDs, against Arkansas Nova threw 397 yards and 3 TDs on 25 of 35 passing. Against UConn he was 157 on 18 of 27 with 1 TD. Nova is 12-4 as a starting QB for the Scarlet Knights, one of those losses was last year against Louisville.
Nova’s passing options are BIG targets. Wide Receivers Tim Wright (6-4, 220, Sr.), Brandon Coleman (6-6, 220, Soph), Mark Harrison (6-3, 230 Sr.), and Tight End DC Jefferson (6-6, 250, Sr.) are big bodies, and hard to miss for the Quarterback. In the redzone you can count on Brandon Coleman getting a jump ball, but they could really do that with everyone. Coleman, Wright, and Harrison all have evenly distributed catches with 37, 37, and 35 between them, but Coleman’s 9 TD receptions far and away leads to the team. Harrison’s 5 TDs is the only other player who can come close to Coleman’s production. But the trio of receivers accounts for 1414 of Rutgers 2298 passing yards on the season 61.5%. Louisville’s secondary has to be up to the task. In one respect the Cards should be faster than these bigger guys, so getting to them shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand Rutgers’ receivers have a SIZABLE advantage over the Louisville secondary in terms of size. This will be an interesting match-up to watch particularly on 3rd and long.
Rutgers’ Offensive Line has allowed just 8 sacks all season. The OLine is a sizable one: LT: Kaleb Johnson (6-4, 300, Soph), LG Antwan Lowery (6-4, 305, Jr), C Betum Bujari (6-4, 290, Soph), RT RJ Dill (6-7, 310, Sr.). The Scarlet Knights do a have a problem at the Right Guard spot this week as Andre Civil is more than likely OUT. Civil did not finish against Pitt and is on crutches and in a boot. Taj Alexander (6-4, 290, Soph) is Civil’s likely replacement but he didn’t finish the game against Pitt either. So this is something to watch for sure to see if Nova gets the same protection and if Rutgers can continue to run the football with a troubled right guard spot. Against Pitt Nova threw for only 157 yards and Rutgers only ran for 50 yards. So it obviously had an impact.
Kicker Kyle Federico will not play against Louisville and instead the Scarlet Knights will go with Nick Borgese to do the place kicking duties. Borgese has been kicking since the Syracuse game. Borgese is 3 of 4 on the year. Borgese’s miss with from the 20-29 range but he is 2 for 2 from 40-49. Wide Receiver Jeremy Deering was ALL-Big East Return Specialist 2nd Team in 2011 and is currently averaging 28.6 yards per return. Louisville would be wise to kick away from Deering.
Louisville’s job #1 is stop the run. I realize that hasn’t really been happening lately. But DeAngelo Brown should be back in the middle and that should give the Cards an extra body inside. BJ Dubose won’t be back at DE and that hurts. Daniel Brown is back, and George Durant is VERY good against the run. But stopping Jawan Jamison is priority #1. Priority #2 is getting to and stopping 3rd Down. Louisville and Rutgers are going to play a great deal of 3rd down on Thursday and winning this down is going to be huge.
Louisville is unlikely to get into Rutgers’ backfield based on the season Louisville & Rutgers have both had. But Rutgers shouldn’t be able to really move the ball up and down the field either. This is going to be a game of field position. If Rutgers puts together 8-9 play drives consistently, WATCH OUT…..Louisville can’t win the game if that happens.
This is going to be a TOUGH, physical game. It’s going to be about what you would expect with both teams playing for EVERYTHING. I saw this game coming in June. I’ve probably been excited about it since then. I’m really impressed with Kyle Flood and the future of Rutgers football. Definitely hope they do well in the Big Ten. But when it comes to the game here are my questions:
1) How does Rutgers move the ball? 2) How does Louisville score? 3) Who makes the most mistakes? 4) How healthy is Teddy Bridgewater? 5) Can Louisville stop the run? 6) Will Rutgers break a huge return/block a kick?
We’ve seen these teams play. We know their personalities. When Louisville is locked in they look like a Top 10 team. Rutgers’ defense is top notch. Gary Nova is steady but sometimes can make the big mistake, whereas the Cardinal secondary drops every interception chance they get. This will be a game of contradictions and in the end one team is going to have more points than the other. I’ve seen Teddy Bridgewater have one of the most impressive and inspiring sophomore years I’ve ever witnessed on a football field.
I don’t think either team has the ability to pull away from the other. But I think in the 4th quarter Rutgers has a 4 point advantage, Bridgewater gets the ball with 2 timeouts remaining and 3:00 minutes on the clock, and personally I don’t think there is a better QB to have when running 4 down offense. I think Louisville wins and I think it’s dramatic at the end.
Louisville 20-Rutgers 17
Attending, Watching, Listening
-Tickets are available on ScarletKnights.com for $58.
-The game will be broadcast on ESPN Thursday night at 7:30 with Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack, and Samantha Steele.
-Over the radio waves 840 WHAS with Paul Rogers, Joe Tronzo, and Doug Ormay and on Sirius/XM Channel 85.