Could there have been more issues going against the University of Louisville Cardinals (10-2, 5-2) on Thursday night when they took on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3, 5-2) in Piscataway, New Jersey? All the school remains abuzz with the distraction of the impending move from the Big East to the ACC. Then there were the rumors that head coach Charlie Strong has interviewed to become the head man at Auburn which he adamantly denied. Then tick off the injury list: Teddy Bridgewater, Senorise Perry, Scott Radcliff. And there’s the pressure of this game, the de facto Big East playoff game with the winner going to the Orange Bowl. Despite all that Louisville gets the bid by virtue of the 20-17 victory.
It didn’t start well. Rutgers came out and on their first play from scrimmage and Gary Nova threw an 85 yard touchdown pass Brandon Coleman. Could this game have uh-oh written on it for the Cardinal Nation?
Will Stein started in place of Bridgewater and played pretty well. But, just as in the Connecticut and Syracuse games Louisville couldn’t move the ball on the ground. That’s surprising considering the Cards controlled the line of scrimmage earlier in the season. Even with Perry on the sideline recovering from an ACL injury, Jeremy Wright should have been able to get traction. But something happened recently where the offensive line could no longer protect the quarterback and forgot how to open holes for the running backs.
Bridgewater came into the game at the beginning of the second quarter and looked very much the part of the wounded warrior with his broken wrist and injured ankle. The two QB rotation let Stein handle the under center chores while Bridgewater apparently intimidated the Rutgers defense just by coming in.
The Scarlet Knights went long again in the second quarter with a 68 yard TD pass to Mark Harrison. That drive took was two plays and the Scarlet Knights went into the locker room with a 14-3 lead.
In the second half, Rutgers felt comfortable taking some chances, like a fake field goal that was called back on a penalty. That was the beginning of the gradual momentum shift in the Cardinal direction. It became imperative for Louisville to capitalize on the breaks and man up. Bridgewater showed how that was done by delivering with a 14 yard touchdown shovel pass to Wright.
On the kickoff, the Cards recovered a fumble to put Louisville right in the red zone again. One play later, Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker for a 20 yard touchdown, 16 seconds after the first one. The Cards took the lead 17-14 on the play of a quarterback with a bum wing and a busted wheel.
From there the teams traded interceptions and field goals with Louisville getting the better of the exchange to close out the game 20-17.
Louisville wins a share of the Big East title with Rutgers and with the tiebreaker, the Cards head to the Orange Bowl, their first BCS bowl game since 2006.
Photo: Louisville.com/Max Sharp
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