Rutgers (5-1) at Louisville (2-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, October 21st, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium (42,000) -- Louisville, Kentucky. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Rutgers 4-0, Louisville 1-2. Away Record: Rutgers 1-1, Louisville 1-2. Neutral Record: Rutgers 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Conference Record: Rutgers 2-0, Louisville 0-1. Series Record: Rutgers leads 7-3.
GAME NOTES: The Rutgers Scarlet Knights will look to extend their four-game winning streak this weekend when they take on the Louisville Cardinals in a Big East clash.
Rutgers blocked a potential go-ahead field goal with under five minutes to play to preserve a 21-20 win over Navy last week. The Rutgers' defense is playing as well as any unit in the Big East at the moment, and the Scarlet Knights have found a quarterback of the future in ture freshman Gary Nova, who has won the last two games. Rutgers will return to Piscataway next weekend to begin a two game homestand against West Virginia and South Florida.
Cincinnati scored 18 unanswered points to rally and beat Louisville last week, who was riding high with a 16-7 halftime after Mike Evans returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown with six seconds left in the first half. Louisville has now lost three straight, and will try to find itself this week with one of the hottest teams in the Big East coming to town. The Cardinals will host Syracuse on October 29 to close out its two-game homestand.
Rutgers leads the all-time series with Louisville, 7-3.
True freshman Gary Nova is now 2-0 as the Rutgers starter, and he had his best performance of the season last weekend against Navy. Nova showed some youth, throwing two interceptions, but he also completed 23-of-31 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, Nova has thrown for 683 yards and six touchdowns against the two interceptions, and he has benefited from the company of Mohamed Sanu out wide. The junior receiver is tied for fourth in the country with 9.1 catches per game, and he averages 92.5 yards per outing. While Sanu has 55 receptions this season, no other Rutgers receiver has more than 14 catches, for an offense that averages 332.8 yards per game.
The running attack has not been particularly strong, and is 111th nationally with 91.8 yards per game. Jawan Jamison averages 68.8 yards per game with one touchdown on the year, and freshman Savon Huggins has chipped in four touchdowns as a role player in the backfield.
Its evident that since head coach Greg Schiano took over defensive play calling duties at the beginning of the season that he wanted his defense to be an aggressive and pressure-minded unit. And Rutgers has been, ranking second nationally with four sacks per game and is tied for fourth with 8.5 tackles for loss. Justin Francis is second in the Big East with 4.5 sacks per game, and Steve Beauharnais has contributed 3.5 through six games. Beauharnais is third in the Big East with eight total tackles for loss. The pressure has certainly helped the team generate turnovers. Rutgers leads the country in turnover margin, and has the most takeways with 24. That includes 14 interceptions, with Duron Harmon recording four picks, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Rutgers is 19th in total defense (305.8), and 12th in scoring defense (16).
The Rutgers defense will certainly present a formidable challenge for true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has started the pas three games for Louisville. The Cardinals have failed to eclipse 300 yards of offense in all three games. Bridgewater was 16-of-25 for 198 yards and one interception last week against the Bearcats, and has thrown for 709 yards and four touchdowns against five interceptions so far in 2011. Bridgewater is helming an offense that has averaged just 17.6 points per game, and is 100th nationally in total offense (330.5). Vic Anderson has been out the last two games, and Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright are averaging 42.2 and 29.3 yards per game, respectively. The top three receivers, Josh Chichester, Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers have combined for 56 catches and one touchdown, with Chichester leading the group with 43.5 yards per outing. Rogers, a true freshman, played well against Cincinnati, catching seven balls for 106 yards.
While Bridgewater will face plenty of pressure from the Scarlet Knights' schemes, Nova should equally have his hands full with a quality Louisville defense. The unit is second in the Big East in total defense and third in scoring defense, allowing 303.5 yards and 17.6 points per game. Much like the up-tempo style of Rutgers, Louisville is also one of the top teams in the country in terms of getting pressure; the unit is tied for 15th in sacks per game (3) and averages 8.3 tackles for loss per game, which ranks as the sixth best output in the country. Linemen Marcus Smith and Greg Scruggs have been forces on the defensive front, combining for seven sacks; linebacker Dexter Heyman leads the defense with seven total tackles for loss.
The Cardinals' defense helped build a 16-7 lead in the first half against Cincinnati, as Mike Evans returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown with six seconds left in the first half. Louisville gave up 18-second half points to the Bearcats, but were haunted by the offense's inability to move the ball and the fact that it didn't recover any of four Cincinnati fumbles. Louisville allowed 330 yards of total offense by Cincinnati, including 178 yards rushing. The Cardinals are 20th in the nation in rushing defense (110.6), and 38th in pass defense (202.8).
This game will feature two productive defensive units, and both should be foaming at the mouth to get after true freshman quarterbacks who will start for their respective teams. The Rutgers offense is more polished at this point behind Nova, however, and should be able to out-duel the youthful Bridgewater and Louisville's struggling offense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 20, Louisville 17
10/19 10:39:15 ET