The 23rd-ranked Cardinals face a big challenge on Thursday night when they travel to No. 25 Rutgers with a BCS bowl berth hanging in the balance. Having lost back-to-back games, Louisville (9-2, 4-2) looks to regain momentum and earn a share of its second straight BIG EAST Conference title, while the Scarlet Knights (9-2, 5-1) look for their first ever BCS bid after already earning at least a share of the program’s first ever league championship. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., ET at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., in a nationally televised matchup on ESPN.
Rutgers’ Pressure Defense Earns High Rankings Nationally
Rutgers has allowed 71 points in six BIG EAST games this season, the fifth-lowest total allowed in league history. The Scarlet Knights have allowed just 11.8 points per game against BIG EAST competition in 2012. Rutgers ranks in the top 25 nationally in four major defensive statistical categories – scoring defense (4th, 13.7 ppg), total defense (14th, 317.4 ypg), pass efficiency defense (18th, 111.04) and rushing defense (11th, 110.7 ypg). They are also tied for third nationally with 17 touchdowns allowed and tied for the fourth fewest rushing touchdowns allowed.
“Rutgers is similar to us on defense,” said Cardinals’ head coach Charlie Strong on Monday. “If you watch them, they bring a lot of pressure. (Khaseem) Greene (senior linebacker) is probably one of the best defensive players in the conference. They don’t have that big, physical guy in the middle. They like to pressure you a lot.”
Scarlet Knights’ Passing Attack Follows Lead of Running Game
Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova leads the Rutgers’ offense having thrown for 2,282 yards (207.5 yards per game) on 191-of-320 passing (59.7 completion percentage) with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His favorite targets are sophomore Brandon Coleman, who has 37 catches for 563 yards and nine touchdowns, and senior Mark Harrison, who has 37 receptions for 429 yards and five touchdowns. In the running game, sophomore Jawan Jamison shoulders the load with 1,004 yards (91.3 yards per game) on 227 carries (4.4 yards per rush) with four touchdowns.
“(It’s) similar to what we just saw,” Strong said. “The quarterback, (Gary) Nova, gets the ball out of his hand quickly. They do a great job in running the football. They have two really talented running backs. It is what you expect. If you look at it, they are a team that is going to run the ball and rely on their defense to apply pressure to win the game. They are not going to lose it on offense. They want their defense to take the field and go win it for them.”
Preparation Removes Pressure for Cardinals
After suffering back-to-back losses leading up to the biggest game of the season, it would appear as though there would be immense pressure on Louisville entering Thursday night’s nationally televised showdown at Rutgers. However, despite a BCS berth on the line and a BIG EAST title within reach, Strong insists any pressure that could come for his team will be solved by a good week of preparation.
“Pressure? I don’t feel any pressure,” said Strong. “I just want to make sure my team is ready. If we prepare our football team, there shouldn’t be any pressure. I tell them that all of the time. If you’re prepared to go play, there shouldn’t be any pressure. Just go play and play within yourself. I don’t need anyone to go make a great play, just go be yourself.”
BCS Bowl Berth Would Be Next Step in Growth of UofL Football Program
A victory against Rutgers on Thursday would likely secure the Louisville football program’s second BCS bowl berth and the program’s third major bowl appearance all-time. The Cardinals’ first major bowl game came with a win over Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl and that was followed by a win against Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl. Following three straight seasons with a post-season appearance, the Cardinals have returned as a nationally prominent program under the guidance of Strong, who will lead UofL to its third consecutive bowl appearance this season.
“I think it would be huge because it would be the second time in our history that we’ve been to a BCS bowl game,” Strong said of the impact of reaching such a level. “It would be great for the program. It would be great for the community and it would be great for our players.”
Game Info: Louisville (9-2, 4-2) at Rutgers (9-2, 5-1)
When: Nov. 29, 2012 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454), Piscataway, N.J.
TV: ESPN with Rece Davis (pxp), Jesse Palmer (analyst), David Pollack (analyst) and Samantha Steele (sideline) covering the game
Radio: The Louisville Sports Radio Network with Paul Rogers (pxp), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline) calling the action
Series Record: Rutgers leads 7-4
In Piscataway: Rutgers leads 4-1
Last Meeting: Louisville 16, Rutgers 14 – 2011 in Louisville, Ky.
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 23rd in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and among the unranked teams receiving votes in the AP Top 25; Rutgers is ranked No. 25 in the coaches’ poll and is receiving votes in the AP poll.