NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Rutgers and Louisville are strikingly similar except for one essential item: Wins.
Both feature pressure-minded coaches who have built top 20 defenses. True freshmen quarterbacks have taken over units still learning to rack up yards. They were picked next to last and last, respectively, in the Big East preseason media poll.
However, Rutgers has separated itself in the category that counts most.
The Scarlet Knights (5-1, 2-0) visit Louisville (2-4, 0-1) on Friday night sitting atop the Big East.
Rutgers has been more opportunistic. The Scarlet Knights are tied for most turnovers forced in the nation with 24, while Louisville has just 10 takeaways. The two offenses gain just about the same amount of yards, but Rutgers uses the extra possessions to score 30.3 points per game, nearly twice Louisville’s 16.3.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong covets the field position and points Rutgers’ defense produces.
“What our defense isn’t doing is creating the short field,” Strong said. “The turnovers are creating the short field for their offense. Plus, they’re intercepting balls and running back for touchdowns. They’re getting touchdowns out of their turnovers.”
Rutgers drives an average of 43.5 yards when scoring in regulation. Louisville is averaging 61.4 yards when the Cardinals score on offense.
Teddy Bridgewater leads the Cardinals and will be starting his fourth consecutive game. He came on in relief for an injured Will Stein against rival Kentucky and sparked a 24-17 win with two touchdown passes.
His three starts, all losses, have not been as flattering as the offense has continues to struggle. Bridgewater has gotten little help from the run game as the Cardinals have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season and have just a single rushing touchdown, a 2-yard plunge in the opener against Murray State. A banged up and inexperienced line has surrendered 22 sacks in six games, fourth-worst among FBS teams.
Strong announced Monday that offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was no longer with the program. Sanford had missed the previous two weeks after Strong moved play-calling duties over to quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, and the Cardinals lost 25-16 at Cincinnati in their Big East opener last week. Strong also said Stein, healthy again, would likely play some Friday but Bridgewater is now his starter.
Watson said the highly touted recruit out of Miami has remained upbeat despite the losses and continues to improve each week.
“You take the confidence measure with his knowledge of the game, and how easy it comes to him, he’s really kind of catching a stride right now,” said Watson, the former Nebraska offensive coordinator in his first season at Louisville. “He’s done a nice job for us.”
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said Louisville’s recent coaching shake-up on offense has affected his team’s preparation.
“Offensively, I think they’re in transition a little bit, with coach Watts kind of calling the plays now,” Schiano said. “He has a long history. He’s a very good coach. We have to look at things a little different when he’s calling.”
Rutgers has its own young quarterback in Gary Nova who won two state titles for New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep where he was 24-0 as a starter. He continues his undefeated streak as a collegian after leading Rutgers to a 34-10 win against Pittsburgh in his first start on Oct. 8 and threw for 271 yards and 2 TDs in a comeback win against Navy 21-20 last week.
Nova has the Big East’s best receiver to lean on in Mohamed Sanu. The junior wideout leads the Big East in receptions with more than nine per game and set a new conference single-game record with his 16 catches against Ohio.
“I think he may have 55 receptions and the next closest guy is like 13,” Strong said of Sanu. “So you know where the ball is going and he’s making plays. I mean he’s making unbelievable catches for them.”
Schiano said his team wouldn’t be caught looking past the Cardinals as they continue their unexpected challenge for the Big East title. The Scarlet Knights host No. 11 West Virginia next week.
“We don’t have a championship game so, again, I don’t know how many (wins) it’s going to take,” Schiano said. “But you know one thing, this counts for one-seventh of it.”
What’s your prediction for Rutgers-Louisville? Let us know in the comments below…
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