Teddy Bridgewater came to New Jersey in a walking boot, a brace/cast on his wrist and uncertainty of whether or not he would even play against Rutgers. But the sophomore signal caller would play, and 52,798 Scarlet Knight fans would be subject to watching one of the gutsiest performances in college football. Bridgewater would finish 20 of 28 for 263 yards and 2 Touchdowns after Will Stein started the game and Teddy didn’t see the field until the 2nd quarter.
In warm-ups I watched Teddy intently. He didn’t come out at first and then when he did finally emerge from the locker room in pads he wasn’t overly enthusiastic while warming up. Charlie Strong said during his post-game that Teddy came to him during the 1st quarter that he was ready, but by then the Scarlet Knights were already on the board. In fact, it took just one offensive snap for Rutgers to score after Calvin Pryor missed a tackle and knocked CB Terrell Floyd off his man and Gary Nova had an 85-yard TD pass to Brandon Coleman. It was an unfortunate start to the game considering Louisville had two players there ready to make a tackle, but sometimes defensive players can block their own team when they don’t wrap up the tackle.
Louisville had trouble running the ball all evening. The Cards finished with just 42 yards on the ground, but Rutgers struggled as well with just 56 of their own. When it comes down to a game where the Quarterback must win the game Louisville obviously had the advantage even despite Bridgewater having just one arm and one leg. Nova finished 13 of 28 for 284 yards, 2 Touchdowns, and 2 Interceptions. Not a terrible game, but consider that 153 yards came on two busted plays and neither came in the 2nd half, and that should tell the story of how well the Louisville defense played all evening in Piscataway. The Cards also gave up a LONG TD to Mark Harrison from Nova after James Burgess just blew a tackle in the 2nd quarter. The 85-yarder I can live with because freakish things can happen in sports. But Burgess missing that tackle really bothered me. But Burgess would make up for it later……
Meanwhile, the Cards were struggling to move the ball and it wasn’t until Rutgers squandered a scoring opportunity with a fake (maybe botched) field goal attempt that ended up a Touchdown was called back due to ineligible man downfield, that the Cards began moving the ball in earnest. Louisville got the ball with 8:35 to go in the 3rd quarter and put together a 14-play, 90 yard Touchdown drive that was capped off with a Jeremy Wright shuttle pass reception for 14-yards. Prior to this drive, it was evident that Louisville’s interior offensive line was getting dominated. DT Scott Vallone was dominating inside and rendering Louisville’s running game useless. The TD narrowed the margin to 14-10 and created the possibility of victory.
At this point in time the Louisville sideline was through the roof. They were bouncing up and down, yelling, screaming. They had swagger. And it just takes one play, one instant to put things on their head and the Cardinals got that moment when Jeremy Deering was ROCKED by Terrell Floyd (both players went down on the hit) and the ball came loose only for Calvin Pryor to recover on the Rutgers 20. And then, like so many other times in the REDZONE the Cards went to their Touchdown ATM in DeVante Parker and it took just one play for Louisville to take a 17-14 lead. Parker was double covered, but like he’s shown so many times before he has the ability to go up and get the ball like no one else. It does help quite a bit that Teddy Bridgewater puts it in a place where only Parker can catch it. But this exchange was the ENTIRE game. It gave the Cards the lead and put them in position to win.
I spent the entire 4th quarter on the field. Nervous energy kept me there, and the amount of trash talk from the Rutgers fans to the Louisville sideline during this time probably fueled a great deal of the Cardinal energy. Much of what was said isn’t fit for print, but the Cards had the lead and Rutgers hadn’t done much on offense when the Cardinals weren’t missing tackles. Things didn’t change, except for when a Teddy Bridgewater pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Lorenzo Waters and returned to the Louisville 42. The Scarlet Knights needed just 21 yards before a Nick Borgese (back-up kicking due to injury) hit a 38-yard field goal to knot the game at 17.
After a HUGE catch from Eli Rogers Louisville would eventually have to punt after a Teddy Bridgewater sack on 3rd down. Rutgers found itself with 4:39 on the clock facing 3rd & 8 when James Burgess got his redemption and intercepted Gary Nova and gave the Cards the ball with FANTASTIC field position. There was an unsportsmanlike flag on the play. I don’t know if it was for celebration or a personal foul. There was a lengthy scrum on the Louisville sideline with Rutgers and Louisville players going back and forth. I was TOO CLOSE to really see what was happening in the mass of humanity, but I do know that Coach Strong was really upset with the flag which took the ball from the Rutgers 32, (49-yard field goal range) to the RU 47 (out of field goal range). But Andrell Smith and Teddy Bridgewater connected on a HUGE 30-yard reception on the following play that eventually led to a chip shot 29-yard John Wallace field goal in what was the game deciding score at 20-17.
Rutgers got the ball back with 1:35, down 3 and moved the ball to midfield on one of the most bizarre plays I’ve seen on 1st down with about 1:12 remaining. Gary Nova just threw it up to no one, and Terrell Floyd ran it down and caught it for the game clinching interception. I’m going to have to go back and see this particular play on film, but I can’t imagine why the receiver wasn’t there or why Nova threw it there. It was just, Floyd….all alone with the conference championship and a BCS bid on the line and a Gary Nova pass. Twilight Zone stuff.
From there it was a simple kneel down. The Cards who hadn’t won a game since November 3rd finally notched their 10th win of the 2012 season, grabbed the Big East Title, and earned their first BCS bowl since the 2006 Orange Bowl. Louisville had the ball for 42:11 of the game and ran 80 plays to Rutgers’ 45. Clearly the object was to control the ball and limit the Scarlet Knight opportunities. In fact, the longest Rutgers had the ball in any one quarter was 5:02 in the 4th quarter. The Cards were 8 of 19 on 3rd down and limited RU to a pedestrian 3 of 11 to boot. I have to credit the game plan and Louisville’s ability to stick with that game plan throughout. The way this game was played it was all about just grinding and not making mistakes and waiting to capitalize on Rutgers’ mistakes. If not for 2 busted tackles this game isn’t as exciting.
The past 48 hours have been an absolute whirlwind and a stark contrast to last Saturday. Last Saturday Wristpacolyspe befell CardNation when Teddy Bridgewater and Gorgui Dieng were diagnosed with broken wrists, and Louisville Football fell in triple overtime to the Connecticut Huskies and Louisville Basketball fell to the Duke Blue Devils. The Karma seemed to change Wednesday morning with the news that Louisville would be joining the ACC, and then rumors about Charlie Strong to Auburn began popping up in the national media, which Coach Strong vehemently has denied. Then coming into the game for the Big East Championship the Cards were not sure whether or not they would have Teddy Bridgewater available, to come in and win like this just caps off a roller coaster of emotion for CardNation.
At this point I couldn’t be happier about being a Card Fan. Conference Title in hand. BCS Bowl to be announced Sunday. Membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I don’t believe that Charlie Strong takes another job. I’m not saying that he won’t, he certainly left the door open in his press conference……BUT I really don’t see why he would leave the Cards with an entire team returning in 2013 that has one of the most special players in college football as its center piece. Couple that with the fact that Charlie is already a Top 20 paid coach with an athletic director committed to matching any offer to go along with ACC membership and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Coach Strong to leave Louisville now, if ever. But IF Coach Strong is going to move on to a different position the pay off is after 2013, not after 2012. It just doesn’t make sense for him to leave for a ‘good’ job. He’ll leave for a ‘GREAT’ job and there are only 10 of those in CFB.
Right now it looks like the Orange or Sugar Bowl for Louisville all depending on Kent State’s final ranking. We can all laugh about how Kent State (a team Kentucky beat handily) is affecting the BCS picture later. But for now, it seems like a pretty cut and dry case that Louisville is either going to face Florida in the Sugar Bowl, or Florida State (OK maybe Georgia Tech) in the Orange Bowl. Either way, the exposure that Charlie Strong and this football program is going to get over the next month in the state of Florida and nationally is going to be INVALUABLE with recruits not just for the 2013 class (it will be small) but for 2014 (a potentially HUGE class) and beyond. It’s no secret that Louisville and Charlie Strong have built this team with a huge lift from Florida players, having Coach Strong & Staff in Miami for bowl prep for 10 days definitely isn’t going to hurt.
My head is spinning thinking of everything that happened tonight. Hopefully if you followed me on Twitter and read my preview (which I nailed the final score right on the money) you enjoyed the coverage of this epic game. There is so much more to come, I’ll make sure to add videos and tidbits as I find them. Also be sure to look out for CrumsRevenge’s Highlight VIDEO on Monday Morning as usual! GO CARDS!!!! Make sure to book your hotels, flights, and get your BOWL TICKETS THIS WEEK!!!!!