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Thursday Morning Five: Why Rutgers Wins

5. If you force Mike Teel to beat you, he just may

Though you'd never know it from his stats, Teel possesses all the physical tools necessary to become a big time college quarterback. Big arm, big game experience, and seemingly on the verge of breaking out on any given weekend.

In high school Teel was a two-time first team all-state selection as a quarterback at Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep. He threw for 1,891 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year and led the Ironmen to their second straight state title and 24th consecutive victory with him behind center. As one of the 50 best players in the nation, Teel was heavily recruited by a number of the big boys, but opted to stay home because he said he believed in what coach Greg Schiano was trying to accomplish.

Though largely ineffective in his first year as the starter, Teel stepped up in arguably Rutgers' biggest non-conference win of the season when he passed for 215 yards and three touchdowns as the Scarlet Knights spanked Navy.

Nevermind that he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his two years at the State University of New Jersey, Teel's most important statistic is his win/loss record since high school: 34-1. His only defeat? Last year's romp at The Oven.

In our eyes Mike Teel is the single most important player in tonight's game. If he looks sharp early and forces Louisville to back off and honor the pass, then the record crowd at Rutgers Stadium could be in for a treat.

4. We got a haircut

We weren't sure whether or not we were going to admit this, but damnit we've never known how to lie you.

Still drunk with happiness last Friday afternoon, we decided things were getting a little too shaggy up top and that it was time to head to our fancy Barbershop (Super Cuts) and get a dome chop. The chair was comfy, the conversation exquisite, and the hair (obviously) glorious. It wasn't until about five minutes after we'd left the lovely Sharon with a generous tip (37 cents) that we realized what we had just done.

Our last cut had been right before our birthday, meaning it was the last week of August, and more importantly meaning it was before the season started.

We may have been the only ones present in our atumomobile at the time, but that didn't stop us from saying "Oh. My. God." out loud. We thought about pulling a U'ey in the middle of the road, sprinting back into the SC and asking what their policy is on super glueing the used hair of a recent client back to his head. Alas we came to terms with the fact that there was nothing to be done, and that we may have just ruined the hopes and dreams of all of Cardinal nation.

If the unthinkable were to happen tonight, rest assured there will be a self-inflicted penalty, and it will involve our hair. Or testicles.

3. The Rutgers D

A far cry from what Brohm and the boys saw across the ball a week ago, the Scarlet Knights are second in total defense (227.4) and scoring defense (9.1), fourth in passing efficiency defense (135.2 yards) and 16th in rushing defense (92.1 yards). They're allowing a miserly 9.1 points per game to teams normally getting just over 20.  Their run defense is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry against teams normally achieving 4.2, and they give up just 5.5 yards per pass against teams normally getting 6.4.

Pitt's Tyler Palko came into the Panthers' game against Rutgers as the nation's leader in passing efficiency, he left without the distinction after throwing for just 169 yards and a pick in a 20-10 loss.

Despite their impressive numbers as a unit, the individuals of the Scarlet Knight defense are relatively unheralded. Defensive tackle Ramel Meekins, cornerback Manny Collins, and linebacker Brandon Renkart are walk-ons, and linebacker Devraun Thompson was offered just one other scholarship (Ball State) out of high school. Tackle Eric Foster, perhaps the Scarlet Knights' top defender (33 tackles, 5 sacks, 10.5 TFL), was better known as a point guard for his high school basketball team than as a talented, undersized lineman. Foster missed last year's game with a knee injury.

"(Brohm) knows how to read defenses," said Foster. "He knows how to find holes in the defense, so we have to do a great job disguising what we're doing. But I don't think he's seen the speed our defense has. I don't think he's seen how good our defense can be."

2. The atmosphere

The sound bites are eerily familiar. "Biggest game in school history." "Sold out." "Biggest crowd ever." "Chance to put the program on the map." "Big East game of the year."

Indeed Louisville fans can relate with the environment present at a Thursday night game in which the home team is the lower ranked of the two undefeated teams involved, and that has been described countless times as the biggest game in the history of the program.

The 10,500 tickets made available to students were gone within four hours of being released, and just under 1,000 students reportedly camped out to make sure they wouldn't be left wanting. Additional bleachers have been put in at an open area in the stadium in an effort to accomodate as many fans as possible for what will undoubtedly be the largest attendance in Rutgers Stadium history.

A lot of Louisville fans still haven't gotten over the "biggest win in school history," and a packed house at Rutgers Stadium will be hoping the Cardinal players haven't either so that they can get one of their own.

Petrino's marquee road win to this point is likely the 43-40 win over Cincinnati he had in his first year here in 2003. Other than that, the road resume over the past four years is quite unimpressive. Brian Brohm and company are yet to beat a team on the road that could even think about sniffing the top 25. There would be easier environments to get their first.

1. Ray Rice

Only because there was no band controversy.

Rice is the nation's third-leading rusher with 1,203 yards in eight games (150.4 a game), and has become a late entrant in the Heisman Trophy race. He averages 27.9 carries a game, but gets at least 30 touches in big games, like when he carried 39 times for 225 yards against Pitt.

Ray Rice's ridiculous rushing really rocks

A stark contrast to what Mike Cassity's defense prepared for last week, Rice and fullback Brian Leonard are going to come right at you (or over you in Leonard's case), picking up 5 yards here, 6 yards there, and almost always getting the majority of it after contact. Louisville is going to stack the box, both sides know that, but if the Cardinals can't wrap up any better than they did last week (we're looking at you Brandon Sharpe) it won't matter how many guys are crowding the line.  

If Rice goes off, Rutgers probably wins, if Rice is held to under 110, then Louisville probably wins. It's that simple. Someone should tell the coaches.