Opponent Breakdown: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rich Schultz

The Scarlet Knights come into Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium as the toughest test the eighth-ranked Cardinals have had so far this season. Kyle Flood will be looking to get revenge on a team that ended his dreams of a first ever BCS trip last season.

Louisville's lackluster schedule will finally be bolstered by a team with a winning record this week as they face of with the 4-1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Louisville beat Rutgers last year in an epic come from behind victory for the right to ultimately go to the Sugar Bowl. Kyle Flood has been able to get his team to win a few close games this year, After last year's collapse, I'm sure he doesn't have to do much to motivate his team.

Offense:

Gary Nova is your requisite "Man, that guy has been there forever" player this season. Nova will line up under center for the Scarlet Knights for the third time against Louisville. I'm fairly certain that he, as well as Rutgers fans, are hoping that he can play much better this week than he has in his last two outings against the Cards defense. Nova has three career touchdown passes against Louisville, but he has also thrown five interceptions. The fifth pick sealing a BCS bid for the Cards last year.

Nova has a big arm and has spent three years mastering the offense, but he is still proving to be turnover prone. Rutgers has been a run first team for as long as we can all remember, but Nova, as usual, has a couple of big play receivers that he needs to get the ball to open things up for the offense. Rutgers runs a pro-style offense with a good amount of play-action and deep dropbacks. Louisville has done very well against both so far this year and Nova has to be aware of the rush as well as the tight windows he will be throwing into.

Paul James is still ranked 18th in the nation in rushing even after missing last weeks game against SMU. Rutgers' running game, however, didn't skip a beat without him. True freshman Justin Goodwin filled in nicely and led the team in rushing and receiving. In my personal opinion, Goodwin is an upgrade over James. He's quicker and has just as much speed in the open field if not more. Goodwin and James have been gashing defenses for big runs all year and Louisville has to continue it's trend of shutting down the run to make Rutgers one dimensional. We all saw how big of a factor it was last year when Louisville shut down Juwan Jamison. Rutgers was forced to throw the ball a lot more and Nova eventually turned the ball over.

Watch enough highlights of the Rutgers offense and you'll see Leonte Carroo running past a cornerback. Keep watching and you will literally see him do it six more times. Carroo has seven touchdowns and by my count six of them are on straight go routes. Lineup and go. Louisville is giving up 12.53 yards per catch, which is the highest number out of the top 19 pass defenses. Carroo and six-foot-six wideout Brandon Coleman can really make the defense pay if they're not locked down. Coleman scored an easy 85-yard touchdown last year by just running past everyone.

The defensive backfield hasn't been tested much so far, but when they have they've looked suspect at times. I think Vance Bedford would like to suffocate the run game and leave his corners on an island outside, I just don't know if they could hang with these two guys out wide without help. Quron Pratt and Tyler Kroft are two other weapons at Nova's disposal. Kroft will likely be Gerald Christian's main competition for first team status at tight end in the American. He's got great speed and he will bring things to the table that UofL hasn't seen so far this season.

Rutgers has already given up three more sacks in five games this year than they gave up all of last season. Pair it's issues with protecting Nova with his propensity to turn the ball over and you have to imagine that Lorenzo Mauldin and Marcus Smith are licking their chops. Left tackle Keith Lumpkin is enormous, but he seems to be the guy chasing defensive ends as Nova is going down in all of the video I watched. He and the rest of the line will have to slow down Louisville's pass rush to be able to get the big plays the offensive will need in the passing game.

On the other hand, the line has been opening gaping holes for their running backs. Rutgers has a ton of monster runs this year and all but a couple of them are untouched runs where the back doesn't have to do anything but get to top speed. The line is getting a ton of push and defensive linemen are ending up 10 yards downfield. It's extremely impressive. Louisville's run defense has been outstanding this year, but it will need to be able to stay that way without putting Calvin Pryor or Hakeem Smith in the box to help. It will be interesting to see who wins this battle.

KEY PLAYERS: LG Kaleb Johnson, WR Leonte Carroo, WR Brandon Coleman, QB Gary Nova

DEFENSE:

Rutgers has always been known for being a blue-collar defensive minded program and that didn't change when Greg Schiano bolted to the NFL. Rutgers had five of its back seven players drafted last season and they have gone through some growing pains early this season. One spot they haven't struggled, however, is against the run. They rank third in the nation against the run and they absolutely shutdown a very good Arkansas rushing attack a few weeks ago.

The defensive line is led by end Marcus Thompson and tackle Darius Hamilton. Thompson is third on the team in tackles and leads a fairly undersized unit with his quickness and discipline. Rutgers brings a lot of pressure and the line has done a great job of holding up blockers and freeing up the linebackers to make plays. They have also been opportunistic and made a good amount of plays behind the line. Thompson will need help from his linemates with getting pressure on Teddy without help from the blitz. They have a good amount of sacks as a defense, but Thompson is one of only two players with more than one. Teddy thrives when teams can't get him to rush through his reads. The line has to be able to make Teddy earn it.

Jamal Merrill is the lone returning starter at linebacker from last year and he is coming back from an injury at the perfect time. Merrill is a big play guy that makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He's experienced and he is one of the few guys on this defense that has seen Louisville's offense at work. He is joined by the teams leading two tacklers including freshman, Steve Longa. These guys can all run and make plays, so it will be interesting to see how they handle Louisville's receivers. They haven't looked good against spread offenses, but Louisville doesn't spread guys around like a Fresno State or SMU. They absolutely stone people in the run game, but they have to prove that they can play well consistently against teams that run the ball well.

The secondary of Rutgers has been absolutely abused. They have seen more passes attempted against them than anyone in the country not named Idaho and they have given up a lot of touchdown passes. One silver lining for them is the fact that they haven't given up a ridiculous amount of big plays. They've been spread out and picked apart with short passes. The corners are all inexperienced and young and they will see something they haven't seen so far this season. Louisville's receivers are much better than most of the guys Rutgers have faced this year. With or without DeVante Parker, Louisville has size and speed that will be hard to match up with. Lew Toler and Nadir Barnwell will have their work cut out for them against a passing attack that hasn't been slowed down all season. Lorenzo Waters will have to be a leader at safety as the only player who has experience against Teddy and his receivers.

Rutgers' exceptional return teams and they will test a Louisville kickoff coverage team that has only allowed 19.4 yards per return in the last two weeks. Quron Pratt and Janarion Grant aren't guys that are likely to get caught from behind if they breakaway, so Louisville will have to show that it's improvement isn't a fluke. Louisville has improved in every special teams unit compared to last year, but kickoff coverage is still ranked very low. Rutgers will provide the biggest test so far.

KEY PLAYERS: SAM, Jamal Merrill, DE Marcus Thompson, SS Lorenzo Waters

Notes:

  • Rutgers played in the first ever college football game against Princeton.
  • Gary Nova is averaging more than one interception a game for his career.
  • Gary Nova really has been at Rutgers for 16 years.
  • Darius Hamilton is the son of former Giants DE Keith Hamilton.
  • Leonte Carroo has scored every other time he's touched the ball this year.
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