Louisville was on the ropes on Thursday night against Rutgers, but a turnaround in the second half stunned the crowd in Piscataway as the Cardinals went on to a 20-17 victory, capturing a BCS bowl berth in the process.
On Rutgers' first play of the game, quarterback Gary Nova hit receiver Brandon Coleman with an 85-yards touchdown pass, putting the home team up, 7-0.
Louisville responded by driving 61 yards on 11 plays in the second quarter, highlighted by some big runs by freshman Corvin Lamb, but was only able to settle for a 20-yard field goal by John Wallace.
On Rutgers' ensuing drive, Nova hooked up with Mark Harrison for a 68-yard score, taking the Scarlet Knights off to a quick 14-3 lead. It was yet another instance of poor tackling from the Louisville defense putting the Cardinals at a big-time disadvantage early on.
At that point, Nova had gone 6-of-7 for 186 yards and two touchdowns. (He threw for 157 yards on 37 attempts against Pittsburgh last week.)
Louisville, meanwhile, alternated Teddy Bridgewater and Will Stein at quarterback throughout the game. Bridgewater came into the game after breaking his left wrist against Connecticut last week.
The Cardinals struggled throughout the first half, totaling 114 passing yards on 6.0 yards per pass attempt and 44 rushing yards on 2.1 yards per carry.
But things changed in a hurry toward the end of the third quarter when Louisville scored two touchdowns in a span of 16 seconds.
First, Bridgewater hit Jeremy Wright for a 14-yard touchdown with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Then, after a Rutgers fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker for a 20-yard touchdown off a hitch-and-go route.
All of a sudden, Louisville was leading, 17-14, and the crowd in Piscataway fell silent.
Following a Bridgewater interception in the fourth quarter, the Scarlet Knights were able to drive 21 yards in seven plays, culminating in a 38-yard field goal by Nick Borgese to tie the game, 17-17.
But an interception by Nova in the final few minutes gave the pigskin to Louisville. Bridgewater hit Andrell Smith with a 30-yard pass on the first play of the drive and Wallace ultimately nailed a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 remaining to give the Cardinals the victory, 20-17.
Bridgewater, despite playing with a broken left wrist, finished 20-of-28 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
As the AP explains (via FoxSports.com), "Louisville (10-2, 5-2) will share this Big East title with Rutgers (9-3, 5-2), Syracuse and possibly even Cincinnati, but the BCS bid will be all theirs. The BCS standings will be used to break the tie and there is no doubt Louisville, with the best overall record in the conference, will be on top."
When Nova hit Coleman for an 85-yard touchdown, Matt Hladik of Rivals.com tweeted:
Talk about coming out firing, Gary Nova executes a play fake, hits Brandon Coleman over the middle for an 85-yard touchdown— Matt Hladik (@MattHladik919) November 30, 2012
After another missed tackle led to the 68-yard score by Rutgers early in the second quarter, Brian Lewis of the New York Post predicted an unpleasant film-watching session for linebacker James Burgess:
LB James Burgess blows the tackle on WR Mark Harrison for a 68-yard Rutgers TD. Somebody's gonna get cussed in the film room... #RFootball— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) November 30, 2012
Kevin McGuire of Examiner.com pointed out an interesting stat at halftime:
After Bridgewater threw his second touchdown pass in the third quarter, Texas A&M freshman and Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel gave props to the dynamic sophomore:
Love the way Teddy Bridgewater is playing tonight. Playing hurt and still trying to will his team through this game #respect— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) November 30, 2012