LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rutgers and No. 8 Louisville are heading their separate ways.
The Cardinals will be in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, Rutgers is bound for the Big Ten. But before their rivalry comes to an end, the schools square off Thursday night in their lone meeting as American Athletic Conference members.
Does Rutgers stand a shot at pulling off the upset?
Louisville (5-0, 1-0) comes in averaging 44.4 points per game, four more than Rutgers (4-1, 1-0).
Cardinals junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Scarlet Knights counterpart Gary Nova have 29 combined touchdown passes, and both teams feature stingy run defenses.
Five points have decided Louisville’s back-to-back wins over Rutgers, which could make for a potentially entertaining send-off between the conference rivals.
“The last two years it’s been a great battle, a great matchup,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said of the series that started in the former Big East Conference.
“You want to continue playing the game but now that we’re going into different conferences, that’s what happens when you move around. You lose that matchup and lose that rivalry.”
Rushing defense could factor into how this 13th and final meeting ends, especially since third-ranked Rutgers (70.6 yards allowed per game) is just one spot above the Cardinals (79.6).
But the focus will be on the passing game, featuring Bridgewater and Nova.
Bridgewater comes in with 1,562 yards passing and 16 touchdowns, numbers that Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said keeps the junior in the discussion of being among the nation’s elite QBs. No doubt, Scarlet Knights coaches and players have been talking about him.
“We’ve got the challenge of playing against the top team in our league and what may very well be the best quarterback in the country,” said Flood, whose team leads the series 7-5. “The quarterback is the most important piece of the puzzle and they’ve got a good one in Teddy Bridgewater.”
Not far behind is Nova, who has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,171 yards and 13 TDs. He’s coming off a four-TD game against Southern Methodist including two in overtime to help Rutgers’ 55-52 win in three OTs.
Though the rivalry’s end comes earlier than usual in the schedule, the determination remains the same for two teams fittingly battling once again for supremacy in a renamed league.
“Defensively, they know a lot about us and we know a lot about them,” Strong said. “So, it’s just going to be about being sound and totally aware of what is going on.”
Here are five things to watch when Rutgers faces No. 8 Louisville on Thursday night:
STARTING AND FINISHING: Falling behind hasn’t fazed Rutgers, which is coming off its second overtime game and rallied from a 24-7 deficit to beat Arkansas. Louisville hasn’t trailed this season and it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals respond if the high-scoring Scarlet Knights jump ahead. No matter who gets the lead, the key is staying in front and putting the game away. Neither team wants to let it turn into a seesaw affair or a shootout.
LOUISVILLE’S DEEP THREAT: Cardinals receiver DeVante Parker is a game-time decision with an injured right shoulder, and his availability will determine how Louisville throws the ball. While Bridgewater has used a plethora of options en route to 16 TDs, Parker’s speed and his knack for getting in the red zone could be hard to replace if he can’t go.
PASS RUSHING: The teams are tied for 15th with 15 sacks each and this game could hinge on how much heat is placed on Nova and Bridgewater. Getting to Bridgewater might be harder for the Scarlet Knights considering the Cardinals have yielded just five sacks this season. Rutgers has allowed 14 sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS’ BIG PLAYS: Rutgers has already returned two kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns this season and its 32.5-yard kick return average ranks third nationally. Louisville hasn’t been burned by a long return yet but has seemed vulnerable in coverage at times. The Cardinals have had just nine kick return opportunities this season but Charles Gaines’ 93-yarder for a TD against Florida International showed their big-play potential.
PRIME-TIME PLAYERS: Rutgers and Louisville are quite familiar with each other on Thursday nights, splitting four games since 2006 including the Cardinals’ 20-17 victory last year in Piscataway, N.J., that clinched a BCS bowl bid. Louisville is 42-27 in night games including 8-2 under coach Charlie Strong. The Scarlet Knights are 6-5 in ESPN Thursday night games including three wins in their last four appearances.
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