Knights blow chances to reverse fate at Louisville
LOUISVILLE, KY. — When Louisville kicker John Wallace’s 45-yard attempt missed wide right in the fourth quarter, the Rutgers football team took over with 5:52 remaining in the contest.
But junior quarterback Gary Nova tossed his fourth interception of the game three plays later.
The back-and-forth sloppy play by both teams in the second half could have played into the Scarlet Knights’ favor, but Rutgers turned two turnovers and two missed field goal attempts by Louisville in the second half into just three points ? a 36-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Kyle Federico early in the fourth.
Head coach Kyle Flood said he believed the opportunities were a testament to how his team was able to stick around.
“In the second half when we got within seven, I think it speaks to the fight of this football team,” Flood said. “There’s a lot of things we need to correct from today. But the one thing that we did was fight throughout the whole game.”
The energy on the defensive end in the second half seemed to be generated by Anthony Cioffi.
The freshman cornerback forced a fumble on Cardinal signal caller Teddy Bridgewater, which junior defensive end David Milewski scooped up with 14:10 left to play.
Cioffi also recovered a fumble on running back Senorise Perry in the third quarter. The play was the only miscue converted by the Knights in the half.
It was Cioffi’s first extensive play in the secondary this season, as Flood placed Cioffi in for freshman cornerback Nadir Barnwell.
“I put it in my mind I was going to get a big role, but it depended on how I did and since I capitalized, they kept me in,” Cioffi said.
Rutgers also managed to block a field goal attempt in the third quarter. Senior outside linebacker Jamal Merrell blocked his sixth-career kick on a Louisville attempt, as Merrell got his hand on it for the Knights’ third blocked kick of the season.
But while the Knights could not generate anything from Louisville’s mistakes, Bridgewater made sure to do the opposite.
After Nova’s fourth interception of the game with 5:52 remaining, Bridgewater led a five-play, 60-yard drive that culminated with a six-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Eli Rodgers to put away the game.
The Knights’ secondary suffered another setback when senior cornerback Lew Toler broke his arm on Louisville’s first offensive drive.
The injury occurred when Toler went to wrap up Cardinal wide receiver Damian Copeland. He lay on the turf for a few minutes before he was carted off the field.
“He broke his arm,” Flood said. “Lew’s parents were here and they were in the hospital with him, and I don’t have more of an update on that.”
That left Rutgers freshman cornerbacks Ian Thomas, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi to defend arguably the best passer in the country.
Bridgewater worked all sides of the field, finding receivers down field when he had time to throw, as he finished 21-for-31 for 310 yards and two touchdowns.
It would not have surprised Cioffi if Bridgewater knew how green the secondary was after Toler went down.
“That’s their game plan,” Cioffi said. “He’s a great quarterback, so of course he has to know. If he’s going to pick on us, that’s fine, we want the competition. That will get us better.”
In Rutgers’ only scoring drive of the first half, Tyler Kroft registered three catches on the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown grab to pull the Knights within 17-7.
The touchdown was not the most impressive play for the sophomore tight end on the drive.
With Rutgers facing a fourth and three from Louisville’s 27-yard line, the Knights lined up in field goal formation. But after the Knights audibled, senior holder J.T. Tartacoff took the snap and found Kroft for a 26-yard gain.
“It was something we had practiced,” Kroft said. “I felt we needed something to jump start us a little bit and get us on the board, and I felt good about it and it worked.”
Kroft, who finished with four catches for 44 yards, also had a critical first down reception. On third and seven at the Knights’ own 33-yard line, Nova threw a pass to sophomore wideout Leonte Carroo. But the pass deflected off his hands and into Kroft’s for the catch.
For Kroft, it was the third straight game with a touchdown reception.
“I love the fact Gary looks to me,” Kroft said. “I wish I could catch the ball 20 times a game, to be honest with you.”
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