Press Conference Audio from CardsTV: Head Coach Charlie Strong
No. 23 Louisville (9-2, 4-2) closes the 2012 regular season with a visit to Piscataway, N.J., on Thursday night to face No. 25 Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) in a game that will decide the BIG EAST title and earn the league’s automatic berth to a BCS bowl. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., ET with live coverage on ESPN with Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack and Samantha Steele calling the game. The Cardinals enter the game following last Saturday’s 23-20 triple overtime loss to Connecticut, while the Scarlet Knights dropped a 27-6 decision at Pittsburgh last weekend to halt a five-game winning streak in league games.
“We have a large task ahead of us,” said Strong during his weekly press conference on Monday. “After dropping the last two games, we have to regain our focus and regain our confidence. The thing we have to realize is we’ve won nine games and dropped the last two, but this team is still a really good football team. Now, we have to go on the road. We have to go on the road to win a championship. What’s at stake for us and what we really have to understand is we have a chance to win a conference championship. We have a chance to go play in a BCS bowl game. We also have a chance for a 10-win season.”
After last week’s loss, the Cardinals need a win at Rutgers to likely secure a berth in a BCS bowl game. With a win over Rutgers and a win by Cincinnati over Connecticut, there will be a four-way tie for the BIG EAST title. Cincinnati would be eliminated with a loss. If four teams end up in a tie (Rutgers, Syracuse, Louisville and Cincinnati), a mini-conference is created between those four schools. The Cardinals would be 2-1 against the three teams, as would Rutgers. The Cardinals would likely go to a BCS game because they would be the highest ranked team. If Cincinnati loses and there is a three-way tie, the same format would apply. The Cardinals would receive the berth in that scenario based on being the highest ranked team. Louisville would have beaten Rutgers and lost to Syracuse, while the Scarlet Knights would have lost to Louisville and defeated Syracuse.
“It’s critical and we always talk about it – we have to pack our defense,” Strong emphasized. “It is going to be critical that our defense plays well. We know that there is going to be a tough crowd for us. It’s going to be a packed crowd for us, but we have to understand this is for it all. This is for the championship and this is what you come to college for. This is what you dream about. This is what it is all about, playing for a championship. Our players are locked in. We had a great practice yesterday. We are going to come back today and it is going to be like a Wednesday. Our players need to understand, and they really do understand and they really want to go play well.”
Strong Says Bridgewater Will Play at Rutgers
Following the loss to the Huskies last Saturday, Strong told reporters that Cardinals’ sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a broken wrist on his non-throwing (left) wrist late in the second quarter. Despite the injury, the talented signal caller returned late in the third quarter and later orchestrated a game-tying, 92-yard drive ending with a 6-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker to force overtime. He finished the day with 331 yards through the air on 30-of-53 passing and two touchdowns. With the short week to recover, Strong is confident Bridgewater will play on Thursday.
“The thing about Teddy is no different than Saturday,” Strong said. “He was able to come back the second half, so it is nothing different than Saturday. He will definitely play on Thursday. He cannot go underneath center and take a snap. Everything is from the shotgun, so he can catch the snap. It’s more about just handing the ball off because you need your left hand to hand the football off, but he throws with his right. We were able to go out there in the second half and he was able to throw and make the checks. He played very well in the second half. The thing we have to do is protect Teddy.”
Stein Has Winning Experience at Rutgers if Needed
If the Cardinals elect to go with a different option at quarterback against the Scarlet Knights, senior backup Will Stein brings experience as a winner on the road at Rutgers if called upon. On Nov. 26, 2010, Stein came off the bench for injured starter Justin Burke and went 9-for-14 for 72 yards passing and his first career touchdown to help guide Louisville to a 40-13 win at Rutgers. The win clinched a bowl berth for the Cardinals in their first season under the guidance of Strong.
“Stein will get a chance to play,” Strong said on Monday. “If we have to get underneath center on the goal line, then he can always come in. The thing about Stein is we are very comfortable with (him). This football team is comfortable with Stein. He has played a lot of ball. If you think about two years ago, it was Stein that went in when (Justin) Burke got injured and won a game for us at Rutgers.”
Running Game Essential to Cardinals’ Success
No matter who is playing quarterback for Louisville at Rutgers, it is imperative that the Cardinals find production in the running game. Louisville rushed for a total of just 75 yards in their back-to-back losses — 27 yards against Connecticut and 48 versus Syracuse. The Cardinals have dipped to 91st in the country in rushing offense at 134.8 yards per game. Louisville has thrown the football 115 times in the last two games, including 65 passes in the loss to Connecticut. The Cardinals are 2-4 under Strong when throwing the football 40 or more times in a game, including a 1-2 mark this season. On the flip side, Louisville is 7-2 under Strong when running the ball 40 or more times in a game.
“What’s critical for us is we have to run the football,” explained Strong. “That’s who we are. If you look at Saturday, we were not effective at all. Connecticut did a good job. They just two-gapped their linemen. They were big and strong up front. We are a gap-scheme team. We run gap and we get the schemes on the defense. But, we have to get the run game going. You are going to have to move people, just come off and attack people and make sure that we have the right plays called. It’s a double game where you double guys and move them out of the way.”