RU tastes redemption against No. 8 Cards
After Louisville’s Terrell Floyd picked off junior quarterback Gary Nova on Nov. 29, 2012, a sea of black made its way out of High Point Solutions Stadium.
With the interception, the Cardinals secured their 20-17 come-from-behind victory against the Rutgers football team, along with the Big East conference’s automatic BCS berth.
Louisville (5-0, 1-0) has not lost since, taking momentum from its 33-23 Sugar Bowl win against Florida last year into an undefeated start to this season.
The streak prompted Louisville head coach Charlie Strong to call his team the best in the country.
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood believes Strong has every right to make such a proclamation.
“I’m not surprised,” Flood said. “I think they’ve got an excellent football team. I think Charlie believes in his football players and I certainly believe in mine. It will be a good test on Thursday night for both of us.”
With a victory against No. 8 Louisville, the Scarlet Knights (4-1, 1-0) will solidify themselves atop the AAC while carving a clearer path to the conference’s automatic BCS bowl. An appearance in the AP Top 25 would be all but guaranteed.
But a loss will fuel the public perception of a program that has not delivered a signature victory against the Cardinals since its famed 2006 upset in Piscataway.
So when pundits say Rutgers has no chance tonight — Vegas has the Cardinals as a 19-point home favorite — it is a criticism the Knights do not really think about.
“That’s left up to the fans,” said senior outside linebacker Jamal Merrell. “That’s not something we focus on here. That’s always going to come up winning or losing, but at the same time, we don’t focus on that. We focus on our game plan.”
That begins with containing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who already has 16 touchdowns through the air this season. In five games with Bridgewater under center, Louisville has outscored its opponents, 222-34.
And while the Knights’ front seven has proven itself capable of pressuring Bridgewater, it remains unknown how the secondary will perform once Bridgewater is able to set and throw down field.
Though Rutgers ranks toward the bottom of the conference in passing yards allowed this season with 306.2 yards per contest, the unit’s biggest concern thus far has been bringing defenders down once they have the ball.
There is a chance Bridgewater can exploit the secondary in both regards, even if the Cardinals are without their best wide receiver, Devante Parker. Parker left last weekend’s game against Temple with a shoulder injury.
“I’m not sure if all those receivers are available to him judging by what happened in the last game,” Flood said. “They have some talented guys out there running around and they are going to push the ball down the field and he does it with great accuracy.”
A victory against Southern Methodist last Saturday has allowed the Knights to feel confident for when they take the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
But Rutgers has been in line for a big victory before against Louisville, against the same quarterback on the same stage.
All it can do now is attempt to deliver its first victory against the school in three meetings.
With both programs’ impending move to different conference next summer, it will likely be the Knights’ last.
“It’s national T.V. and everyone in the country is going to be watching,” Nova said. “But at the end of the day, you can’t focus on that and you have to focus on trying to do your job the best you can.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.