Louisville vs. Rutgers: 10 Lessons Learned About the Cardinals' Win over Rutgers
The Louisville Cardinals came in expecting to have to fight for the right to play in a BCS bowl game. A fight is exactly what they got. The Cardinals beat Rutgers 20-17 to earn a likely trip to the Orange Bowl to represent the Big East.
The Scarlet Knights scored on the very first offensive play from scrimmage and scored once more in the first half on an explosive play.
The Cardinals could hardly find any room to run on Thursday evening, so they had to rely on QB Teddy Bridgewater, who didn't even make the start due to a broken hand and an injured ankle.
Despite the injuries, Bridgewater led the Cardinals out of the locker room in the second half and to a win in NJ.
In one 16-second span in the second half, Louisville went from being down 14-3 to being up 17-14. After a TD drive, a big hit by the Cardinals' special teams unit jarred the ball loose from the Rutgers ball-carrier.
The regular season is over for both of these teams. Rutgers finished the season with a 9-3 record and as co-champions of the Big East with Louisville, who finished 10-2.
Let's find 10 lessons we learned from the Cardinals' win over Rutgers on Thursday night.
Missed Opportunities Plagued Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights had an ample amount of opportunities to win the game on Thursday night. There were missed opportunities all over the field.
One in particular that fans will remember is the fake field-goal attempt by Rutgers in the second half. The Rutgers' TD was nullified due to an illegal man downfield on the play. The penalty pushed the Scarlet Knights back so much that it pushed them out of field-goal range.
Another time was early in the fourth quarter when a perfectly thrown ball by Rutgers QB Gary Nova slipped right through the hands of a Rutgers receiver. It brought back bad memories of the 2011 matchup between these two teams.
The Knights had chances to win, but missed opportunities plagued them all evening long.
Running Game Is Still an Issue for Louisville
Coming into tonight's game, Louisville had recorded only a combined 75 rushing yards in its last two games against Syracuse and Connecticut. Tonight, the Cardinals had only 42 yards rushing.
The loss of senior RB Senorise Perry is certainly a big one, but if Louisville wants to have success in its bowl game, it must be able to count on the running game.
Jeremy Wright received most of the carries tonight for Louisville, recording only 17 yards on 22 carries. Corvin Lamb led the Cardinals in rushing with 37 yards on six carries.
Connecticut and Rutgers topped the Big East in rushing defense coming into tonight's game, but to be held to under 50 yards rushing is a concern, no matter the opponent.
It is something that Louisville must find an answer to during its preparation for the bowl game.
Rutgers' Defense May Need Some Oxygen Masks
Louisville won the time-of-possession battle on Thursday night by a whopping 25 minutes. Louisville had the ball for 42:11, compared to 17:49 for Rutgers. That is not a typo.
The main reason for such a vast difference in time of possession is that Rutgers scored on its very first play from scrimmage, and Louisville was running its offense methodically the entire game.
It paid off, Louisville ran 80 plays compared to Rutgers' 45.
In the first half, Louisville had a hard time moving the ball through the air or on the ground. The Rutgers defense was playing with passion and aggression.
In the latter part of the second half, when the game was on the line, it was obvious that the defense was wearing thin. Most teams would. It's hard for any elite defense to defend 80-plus plays in a game.
The secondary started to wear down, as Teddy Bridgewater dinked and dunked his way down the field against the top-rated secondary (in passing efficiency) in the Big East.
Slow and steady won the race for Louisville on Thursday night.
Teddy Bridgewater Showed Championship Mettle
It was almost hard to watch at times. On every instance that a Rutgers defensive player came close, it became almost second nature to lean back and wince because of the obvious pain that Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater was in.
Bridgewater did not start Thursday night due to a broken left (non-throwing) hand and an injured ankle he suffered last week in the loss to Connecticut.
He came in to start the second quarter and the pain was evident on the very first play.
But Bridgewater battled through it and showed why he may start off the 2013 season as a Heisman candidate. Even 2012's Heisman favorite chimed in on Bridgewater's play.
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
Bridgewater led his team in a second-half comeback and now has a little time for some well-earned rest.
He finished the night 20-of-28 for 263 yards and two TDs. He also finished it with even more respect from his teammates than he already had.
Louisville's Special Teams Were Special
The turning point in the game came immediately after Louisville scored its first TD of the night.
James Burgess streaked down the field and jarred the ball loose from the Rutgers' kick returner. Before you know it, Louisville was in the end zone. Louisville never trailed after that moment.
Special teams often get overlooked, but when big plays happen like they did on Thursday, it's apparent why the best coaches preach success on special teams.
It was the punch that Louisville delivered and the one that Rutgers could never recover from.
Rutgers Could Not Respond the Way Championship Teams Should
The Scarlet Knights were clearly the better team in the first half tonight. They looked sharp and well-coached.
But when Louisville fought back and took a three-point lead in the third quarter, Rutgers laid down and did not respond the way that a team hoping to be a champion should.
A sign of a good team is how it responds when something negative happens.
Rutgers responded with mental mistakes, dropped passes and miscommunication. Rutgers is on its way up, but it was shown a lesson in how a championship team responds when it takes a proverbial punch in the mouth.
Rutgers Showed Explosive-Play Ability
On the first offensive play from scrimmage for Rutgers, Sophomore QB Gary Nova found WR Brandon Coleman streaking down the sideline for an 85-yard TD reception.
In the second quarter, Nova found WR Mark Harrison on a 68-yard TD pass (aided by the lack of tackling by Louisville).
Rutgers showed an explosive-play ability through the air and did so against a normally solid Louisville secondary. Louisville came in with the top-ranked pass defense in the conference.
The play of Nova should give Scarlet Knights fans optimism for the 2013 version of Rutgers' offense.
Big East Title Really Belongs to Louisville
Technically, Louisville and Rutgers split the Big East championship as a result of Thursday's game.
That title is no consolation for Rutgers or its fans, though. There was no celebrating in the Scarlet Knights' locker room because they have a share of the Big East title.
Instead of going to a BCS game like it could have with a win on Thursday, Rutgers will likely go to a lower-tier New Year's Day bowl.
Louisville was the better team, and it came in to NJ in front of a sellout crowd and snatched the title away from Rutgers when it appeared that the Scarlet Knights may have had it wrapped up.
It's been an amazing turnaround for Charlie Strong's club in three years, and even though the Cardinals may have to say "2012 co-champions," there is no doubt who the Big East's best team was.
Rutgers Run Defense Remained Stout
Louisville may have won the game, but Rutgers won the battle up front, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Louisville RBs could hardly find a smidgen of space on Thursday night. Rutgers came into Thursday's game with the Big East's second-best run defense behind Connecticut and the 11th-best in the country.
That ranking may improve after Thursday. The Scarlet Knights' tenacious run defense kept the Louisville running attack at bay all evening long.
The Cardinals rushed for a measly 42 yards in the game. The Cardinals attempted to rush it 41 times. That's an average of one yard per carry.
Rutgers' defense doesn't stop the run with huge bodies like an Alabama defense does. It does it with speed and technique.
Louisville's Season Was Saved
Louisville started the season 9-0 and cracked the BCS Top 10 before a colossal meltdown against Syracuse two weeks ago. It followed that up by losing to Connecticut last week.
What was once a promising season with BCS aspirations all came down to Thursday night. Louisville refused to let that incredible start to the 2012 season go to waste.
A third consecutive loss, especially to Rutgers, would have certainly left Louisville with a sour taste in its mouth about the 2012 season.
It responded to back-to-back losses like good teams do and went into a hostile environment and beat a good football team.
The BCS aspirations Louisville once had just a few weeks ago are now a likely reality once again. Louisville flirted with a loss, but came away with the win it had been yearning for.
Its season was saved in the process.