Rutgers Put Bowl Hopes On The Line
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Louisville and Rutgers are going to play a bowl game of sorts – a postseason elimination bowl.
With both teams needing a win to keep their hopes alive, Louisville (5-6, 2-4 Big East) and the Scarlet Knights (4-6, 1-4) will battle in a post-Thanksgiving Day contest at Rutgers Stadium on Friday.
Neither team is hot coming into the 11 a.m. EST game.
The Cardinals dropped home games to South Florida and West Virginia in failing to become bowl eligible the past two weeks, and everything is on the line in the regular-season finale for rookie coach Charlie Strong and his team.
Rutgers has lost four straight, and its run of going to five straight postseason games under Greg Schiano will end unless it wins the final two contests. They end their season at West Virginia on Dec. 4.
The Scarlet Knights have not won since Oct. 16, when they beat Army in the game that backup defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a severe spinal cord injury making a tackle on a kickoff return.
“Honestly, it’s hard not thinking about what’s at stake,” Rutgers defensive end Alex Silvestro said. “But you can’t get to a bowl game in one day. Obviously we have to handle this one first and move on. Can’t look forward, can’t think about anything else. Have to think about Louisville and how to prepare for them.”
The good news for Rutgers is that it has never lost to Louisville at home, outscoring the Cardinals 163-60. The last time Louisville visited, Mike Teel set school records for single-game passing yards (447) and passing touchdowns (7) in a 63-14 victory. The Scarlet Knights lead the series 7-2, winning last year’s game 34-14.
“It’s going to be a big test for us,” Strong said. “At least we get it to one game. We’ve been talking about two games, three games, now it’s to one game. We have to go win this football game if we want to reach our goal of getting to a bowl game.”
The Cardinals have not been to a postseason bowl game since winning the conference title in 2006. They went 6-6 the following season but were not selected.
Whatever happens, this has been an encouraging season for Strong and Louisville. They were picked to finish last in the conference but have been competitive in every game.
Louisville senior quarterback Justin Burke said the pressure is no greater this week than any other.
“We don’t look back, that’s for when the season’s over,” said Burke, who will make his third straight start for injured senior Adam Froman. “We don’t look to the future, we’ve got to look to the present and go get a win on Friday. It’s always tough getting a loss, but it’s how you bounce back that’s important. You just want to win, that’s the competitive drive all these guys have.”
It’s going to be interesting to see what Rutgers has left in the tank after an embarrassing 69-38 loss at Cincinnati last weekend.
Schiano said his defense had a meltdown against one of the conference’s top offenses, but noted his team had problems in all aspects of the game.
“We certainly have our hands full,” Schiano said of Louisville. “We are going to have to be at our best in every area and every phase of the game to have the opportunity to compete. I think we will be.”
Defensive tackle Charlie Noonan said the defense has to get back to basics.
“It’s all the things we always say, but it’s true. It’s about earning it. It’s about practicing better. That’s what we have to do,” Noonan said.
Schiano plans to again start freshman Chas Dodd over sophomore Tom Savage.
“As long as we keep fighting and keep focusing and keep chopping on what we have to do, then it’s going to turn out positive,” Dodd said.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Louisville contributed to this report.
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