Louisville (9-2) at Rutgers (9-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 29, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454) -- Piscataway, New Jersey. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Louisville 6-1, Rutgers 4-1. Away Record: Louisville 3-2, Rutgers 5-1. Neutral Record: Louisville 0-0, Rutgers 0-0. Conference Record: Louisville 4-2, Rutgers 5-1. Series Record: Rutgers leads 7-4.
GAME NOTES: While the Big East doesn't have an official championship game, the battle between the Louisville Cardinals and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium this Thursday is as close as it gets.
With a win in this game Louisville would create a three or possibly four-way tie for the Big East Crown between itself, Rutgers, Syracuse and Cincinnati, if the Bearcats defeat Connecticut on Saturday. A win from Rutgers secures an outright conference title for the Scarlet Knights.
Louisville didn't do itself any favors last weekend when it dropped a winnable game against Connecticut, 23-20 in triple overtime at home. The loss dropped the Cardinals to 9-2 and out of the national rankings. The loss also put the Cardinals at 4-2 in Big East play, but some help from the Knights helped keep the conference title hopes alive.
All Rutgers had to do last weekend was defeat Pittsburgh and the Knights would already be celebrating a Big East championship. However Rutgers was blown off the field 27-6 by the Panthers and now sits at 5-1 in Big East play and 9-2 overall. Rutgers is the only team remaining that can win the conference title outright.
If history gets a say in this matchup, Rutgers will be in good shape as the Knights have taken seven of the previous 11 meetings, including 4-of-5 in Piscataway. However, Louisville has won four of the seven games played between the teams as fellow Big East members.
In a season in which he has come up with clutch play after clutch play, Teddy Bridgewater did it again versus UConn, throwing a game-tying touchdown to DeVante Parker with 21 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. However, Bridgewater than made an uncharacteristic mistake in the third overtime as he was intercepted on third and goal. Still, Bridgewater has enjoyed a very strong season, leading the Big East in completion percentage (.688), while throwing for 3,189 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His quarterback rating (161.2) is the best mark in the conference and he is one of only two players to have throw for 3,000 yards in the league.
The Cardinals have not relied solely on the passing game, but may lean on it more after Senorise Perry was lost for the season two weeks ago with a leg injury. Perry accounted for 705 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground before the injury. Jeremy Wright (723 yards, 9 TDs) worked with Perry to create an explosive tandem but in his first go as the full-time starter last weekend Wright rushed for only 43 yards on 16 attempts.
Parker has been turning it up in recent weeks. He has caught four or more passes in three of the last four games and has not had less than 52 yards in that time. Parker has also been finding his way into the end zone at an accelerated rate with six of his eight total touchdowns coming during that Span. Overall Parker leads the team with 683 receiving yards on 35 receptions. Daniels Copeland (42 receptions, 539 yards, TD), Andrell Smith (27 receptions 417 yards, 3 TDs) and Eli Rogers (38 receptions, 387 yards, 4 TDs) give Bridgewater even more passing options.
With such balance on offense the Cardinals have turned in the third-most productive season in the Big East in terms of total yards (431.3 ypg), while scoring at a higher rate than any other team in the league (32.0 ppg).
There is nothing particularly phenomenal about the Louisville defense. The Cardinals are right in the middle of the ranks in the conference in terms of total yards allowed (345.5 ypg) while ranking fifth in scoring defense (24.5 ppg). Louisville has not created much in terms of negative plays with only 19 sacks and 52 tackles for loss, which is the worst mark in the Big East.
Offense is not the strong suit for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are ranked above only Temple and Connecticut in total yards (341.4 ypg) and is one of just three teams to be putting up less than 390 yards of total offense in the conference.
Jawan Jamison has been a workhorse in the backfield. He has 227 carries for 1,004 yards but has been slowed in recent weeks with an injury. In his place backup Savon Huggins has stepped in with mixed results. After piling up 179 yards on 41 carries two weeks ago against Cincinnati, Huggins managed just 18 yards on eight carries last weekend. As a team Rutgers ranks second to last in the conference in rushing yards (132.5 pg).
Running the show from under center is Gary Nova who has really struggled in recent weeks. During a four-game span he has thrown 10 interceptions and only five touchdowns, while completing 57.1 percent of his pass attempts. On the season Nova has thrown for 2,282 yards and 20 touchdowns on 59.7 percent passing to go along with 13 interceptions. Protection has not been an issue as he has been sacked only eight times.
A trio of pass catchers have racked up at least 35 receptions this season for the Knights led by Brandon Coleman (37 receptions, 563 yards, 9 TDs). Also in the mix are Mark Harrison (37 receptions, 429 yards, 5 TDs) and Tim Wright (35 receptions, 422 yards, 2 TDs).
Where Rutgers' strength lies is on the defensive side of the ball. All season the Scarlet Knights have excelled on that side of the ball allowing only 13.7 points and 317.4 yards per game. The Knights are the top scoring defense in the Big East and fourth nationally, while they are the 14th-ranked unit in the country in total defense.
At the center of it all is Khaseem Greene. The senior linebacker has racked up an impressive 115 tackles this season, 10.0 of which have come for loss. He has also recorded 5.5 sacks, snagged a pair of interceptions and forced six fumbles, two of which he recovered. Scott Vallone (46 tackles, 9.5 TFLs) and Ryan Logan (77 tackles, 4 INTs, 18 passes defended) are other stalwarts.
It all comes down to this game for the Big East. Rutgers has not been a very special team on offense but has a top-notch defense led by one of the best linebackers in the entire country in Greene. Bridgewater will keep the Cardinals in it, but in the end Rutgers will find a way to get the win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 23, Louisville 20
11/28 10:41:30 ET