LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-0, 1-0) vs. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (4-1, 1-0)
Game Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Rece Davis (play by play), Jesse Palmer (analyst), David Pollack (analyst) and Samantha Ponder (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 19
All-Time Series: Rutgers leads 7-5
Last Meeting: Louisville won 20-17 last season in Piscataway
Schedule of Events:
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 Carroorunning 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
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
Excitement Level (1-10): 9.2
Thursday night, ESPN, a decent opponent finally coming to town that just so happens to be a pretty big rival, RALLY TOWELS. What more could you ask for?
Game Attire: Jeans, red and white Cardinal bird hat, red Cardinal shoes, new Red Louisville Football Shirt, the rest is a gametime decision
I feel like I've really been slacking with my wardrobe decisions in recent weeks, but I commit to anything right now untul I get out there and see what the weather feels like in a few hours. I've committed to jeans for the first time this year, but I'm not sure if I'm going back to the red and white U of L track jacket just yet. Also, even though it has shrunk tremendously and looks stupid, I can't leave the new Red Louisville Football Shirt on the sidelines any longer.
Pre-Game Meal: Snacks, beer.
I love weeknight games more than I love taffy, but they're certainly not ideal when it comes to tailgating as an adult with adult friends who have adult jobs. This could be a halftime snack type of night.
Predicted Star of the Game: Damian Copeland
The Mustard scores twice and breaks this recent PSOTG Curse.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Outrageous Orange (Stronger than the chances of one of my parents not answering their cell phone).
Bold Prediction: Rutgers fakes a field goal.
Because they're still salty about last year's illegal man downfield penalty. Flood seems brash enough to hold onto that and attempt to exact a modicum of revenge.
Motivational Opposing Player Tweet(s):
Bout to go take care of this business real quick 💼👔✈️✈️— Steven Longa (@StrongaLonga3) October 9, 2013
#RFootball has left campus on our way to Newark Airport. 29.5 hours until it's time to #ChopLouisville— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) October 9, 2013
--This will be the last meeting between these two unlikely rivals before Louisville leaves for the ACC and Rutgers moves to the Big 10.
--Rutgers leads the all-time series 7-5, but Louisville has won the last three games, including the last two by a combined five points.
--Louisville is 6-0 all-time when ranked No. 8.
--The Cardinals are 11-3 all-time on Oct. 10, the only date in which they have won more than nine games.
--All-time, Rutgers is 2-26 against teams ranked in the AP Top 10, but they've won two out of their last three games in that situation.
--Rutgers has five victories all-time on the road against a ranked opponent. The last road win versus a ranked team was a 54-34 victory over No. 17/20 Pitt (Oct. 25, 2008).
--Teddy Bridgewater has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games.
--Rutgers freshman RB Justin Goodwin had a breakout game against SMU. Entering the game on the team's second series, he finished with 149 yards on 24 carries and also caught two passes for 73 yards. He'll again split time with Savon Huggins this week, but the Louisville defense should be more of a challenge for the freshman.
--Louisville has posted a 73-25 record in home games since the program moved into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 1998.
--The Scarlet Knights have scored 28 points or more in each of the first five games for the first time in school history. The Scarlet Knights have eclipsed the 50-point mark twice in the season for the first time since 2008.
--When scoring 20 points or more in a game under the direction of Charlie Strong, the Cardinals' record is 29-6. Louisville is also 19-3 under Strong when holding opponents to 20 or fewer points.
--Rutgers is the only program in the country to post at least one shutout in each of the past eight seasons.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 139-14 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--In two road games this season, Rutgers has yet to hold an opponent below 50 points.
--Louisville's average of allowing just 6.8 points per game is the best mark in the country.
--"He's a human being. He bleeds the same way I bleed, so why should I be scared?" - Rutgers LB Steve Longa on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
--"I don't think the players who were on the field for that game last year have forgotten it. Certainly when you get to the end of the year and you play a championship game, and that's what it ended up being, and you come up a couple plays short, I don't know that anybody needs to be reminded of that. Winning this game does not take back what happened last year. We've got an opportunity to stay undefeated in the conference. I don't think we need any more motivation than that." --Rutgers coach Kyle Flood
--"We have so much respect for their program, and I know they feel the same about us. You're going to lose that. You'd love to continue to play the game, but now we're moving to different conferences. That's what happens when you start moving around in those different conferences. You lose that matchup, lose that rivalry." --Charlie Strong
--"It's one of those games that you look forward to playing. Both teams, both schools, hate each other. But at the same time, we both respect each other. The level of play is so high when the University of Louisville and Rutgers meet that the rivalry just took off." --Teddy Bridgewater
--"You've got two teams that are both 1-0 in the conference, so the team that can be 1-0 Thursday night continues to control their own destiny within the conference. And in a conference with no championship game, I think that's critical. The more you can do that the better your chances of ending up at the top at the end." --Kyle Flood