With shades of 2006 abound, Louisville will face Rutgers on Thursday night with a spot in the BCS on the line. The battle to be the best team in the Big East - as well as the best team leaving the Big East - is on.
Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti deserves credit for showing faith in a guy that had never been a head coach, had little coordinator experience, and was about 5-10 years younger than most BCS head coaches. He's been rewarded with his school's first piece of a Big East championship. Kyle Flood took over for Greg Schaino after Schiano bolted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job unexpectedly over the offseason. Flood has done nothing but finish off the best recruiting class in school history and lead his team to at least a share of the school's first Big East championship.
Louisville has had a terrible time stopping some of the more suspect offenses in the Big East. Rutgers' offense is no different than some of the offenses we've seen in the last month or so. But they're typically more polished. Rutgers will run the ball until you stop them, then they'll throw the ball deep on you. Gary Nova was brought down to earth last year by this Louisville defense after three wins to start his career.
Nova has a big arm and outside of a terrible game against Kent State, he's had a really good season for this team. Rutgers is built around it's defense and all it really asks of it's offense is to score a touchdown or two, and take care of the ball. Nova has a misleading 13 interceptions due to his 6 versus KSU. Other than that bad game he's done well to complete a handful of deep balls and protect the football. Nova doesn't handle pressure all that well and he's not very mobile. If Louisville can get to him like they did last week against UConn, Nova might get a little flustered.
Rutgers has an undersized running back that runs like he's much bigger. Sound familiar? Jawan Jamison is a super productive back that does just about everything well. The offense is a "multiple" offense, or "pro-style". In that type of offense you have to have a back that can carry the ball 20-25 times a game and catch the ball out of the backfield. Jamison isn't a guy that will break a lot of big runs, but he is a guy that will get a chunk here and a chunk there. Louisville hasn't fared well against those types of backs. Add in the fact that Savon Huggins has finally shown signs of being the stud recruit that he was supposed to be last year and you have a problem for Louisville's defense.
Brandon Coleman is a freak. Like DeVante Parker with more size. He isn't a guy that's going to catch a ton of passes every game, but he'll probably score. And it'll probably be a big play when he does. Coleman is a nightmare matchup for any cornerback but he's going to tower over our much shorter corners. Coleman lines up across the field from Mark Harrison who is six foot three and is still three inches shorter than Coleman. Harrison is a big body that is having a much improved year following a surprising letdown last season. Harrison should be looking for redemption after having one of the worst drops I've ever seen last year in what was a very close game. Rutgers doesn't spread the ball too much outside of those two guys, but just like any pro-style offense, they have a handful of guys that a reliable options in the passing game.
Rutgers has the best offensive line in the Big East. They've only given up 8 sacks on the year and their running game is solid. The epitomize the blue collar approach that the entire team has.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Brandon Coleman, The offensive line
One thing that I hope that I've gotten across in anything that I've ever written is that I have respect for great football players, whether they play for UofL or not. Khaseem Greene is a great football player. As a matter of fact, he's the type of football player Louisville has needed this year. Greene is every played out cliche that you're tired of hearing from all of the commentators. Greene leads Rutgers in every defensive statistic other than interceptions and pass breakups. That's not normal going into the last game of the season. Maybe after four or five games, but not after eleven. Green must be accounted for if Louisville is to run the ball better than they have over the last two games.
Rutgers doesn't get to the quarterback all that often but the effort is there. The defensive line doesn't have a lot of sacks but they do have a ton of tackles for loss. As you may have noticed, it's my favorite statistic. Sacks are great and all but if you can stop the run you have given yourself an advantage. Making stops behind the line is the best barometer for that in my opinion. Scott Vallone anchors a very stout line that isn't overly athletic, but they play their roles well.
Louisville learned the hard way what happens when you throw at a shutdown corner. Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off a pass in the endzone to all but seal the game last week. Teams have been avoiding him like the plague all season and we saw why. However, Rutgers corner Logan Ryan must feel like the belle of the ball. Quarterbacks have been throwing at him all season as if he wasn't hands down the best corner in the Big East. Ryan has four interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and 18 passes defended. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone is throwing at him, but he's making quarterbacks pay when they do. Rutgers brings pressure and they press outside. I don't expect Ryan to shadow Parker, but I wouldn't be surprised if he lines up across from him on big third downs or certain blitzes. The rest of the defensive backfield haven't played bad at all, but they haven't had the impact Ryan has. I fully expect UofL to spread the field and take advantage of the aggressive style of Rutgers.
KEY PLAYERS: OLB Khaseem Greene, MLB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, DT Jamil Merrill, DT Scott Vallone
- Khaseem Greene was somehow left off of the Butkus Award list. Steve Beauharnais wasn't.
- The winner of this game will go the the BCS game this year. Neither team will be in the Big East in two years.
- Rutgers played the first ever football game.
- Brandon Coleman is 9 inches taller than Andrew Johnson and Terrell Floyd.