LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
Despite losing its last two games, the University of Louisville football team knew the season would come down to the final game against Rutgers, and it has all come to fruition, as the Cardinals take on the Scarlet Knights in a winner-take-all game Thursday night at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. on ESPN.
Should the Cardinals win at Rutgers, Louisville will claim its third BIG EAST title and second-straight, but more importantly, will advance to the second BCS bowl game in school history.
The Cardinals need to get back on track after dropping a disappointing 23-20 triple-overtime loss to Connecticut at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last time out.
"We have a large task ahead of us," said head coach Charlie Strong. "After dropping the last two games, we have to regain our focus and regain our confidence. The thing we have to realize is we've won nine games and dropped the last two. But, this team is still a really good football team. Now we have to go on the road. We have to go on the road to win a championship."
Eli Rogers had seven catches for 72 yards, including a long of 22, in the Connecticut loss.
The Cardinals have not played well as of late, falling to Syracuse and Connecticut, after winning the first nine games. Losing two games in a row to teams with losing records would hurt the confidence of most teams, but the Cardinals are ready to play and attack the huge task at hand.
"Confidence isn't shaken right now," said Strong. "You won nine games, so the thing about it is we've dropped the last two. But, the confidence is not an issue. You always want to talk about confidence, because when you go on the road, it's a confidence (thing). You have to walk in there knowing that you are going to go win the football game."
The Cardinals struggled all afternoon running the football in the loss to Connecticut, and didn't get the running game going until late in the second half and overtime. Louisville has rushed for only 75 yards in the last two games, and hasn't been able to get a run of over 20 yards in either of the losses. The running game has been a staple of Strong's teams during his tenure, and they need to find a way to penetrate a tough Rutgers defense that is one of the best in the country in keeping team's out of the end zone.
"What's critical for us in the running game is we have to run the football," said Strong. "That's who we are. If you look at Saturday, we were not effective at all. Connecticut did a good job. They just two-gapped their linemen. They were big and strong up front. We are a gap-scheme team. We run gap and we get the schemes on the defense. But, we have to get the run game going. You are going to have to move people, just come off and attack people and make sure that we have the right plays called. It's a double game where you double guys and move them out of the way."
The Louisville defense kept the Huskies in check last week in the second half, but the Huskies made critical plays during the overtime period to steal a win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals face a Rutgers offense that mirrors Connecticut in that it likes to run the football and hit teams with a short-passing game.
"It's similar to what we just saw," said Strong. "The quarterback (Gary) Nova gets the ball out of his hand quickly. They do a great job in running the football. They have two really talented running backs. It is what you expect. If you look at it, they are a team that is going to run the ball and rely on their defense to apply pressure to win the game. They are not going to lose it on offense. They want their defense to take the field and go win it for them."
The Cardinals were picked to win the BIG EAST title for the first time since 2007 and are in position to make the prognosticators look intelligent. If the Cardinals can run the football and play good defense, then Louisville has chance to win its 10th game of the season and accomplish everything it set out for to start the season.
Now, the only thing that stands in the way is a trip to New Jersey to face a tough Rutgers squad in what will be a hostile and intimidating atmosphere.