After entering the game as a 20 point favorite, the Cardinals raced to a 17-0 second quarter lead and appeared to be on course to secure yet another blowout victory, but turnovers and special teams shortcomings kept the them out of the end zone until the games final minutes.
Clinging to a lead that was slowly shrinking, the U of L defense stepped up to keep the Cardinals record unblemished.
With the largest stage of the season, all the eyes of a national televised audience and sold out Papa John's Cardinal Stadium were focused on U of L junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the home team's potent offense.
This was to be the moment that the 8th-ranked Cardinals would prove the case for being included among the nation's elite and the first half lived up to those expectations.
Facing a defense that ranks in the top five against the run and in the top 20 in sacks and tackles for a loss, the Louisville offense was still able to move the ball. Bridgewater threw 154 yards and the rushing attack averaged over 5 yards a carry.
Playing without wide receiver DeVante Parker and his ability to haul in touchdown passes had an impact in the Cardinals red zone effectiveness. Louisville was 25 of 26 in red zone opportunities through five games, but came up empty twice against Rutgers.
"Offensively we had many opportunities," U of L head coach Charlie Strong said. "When you look at us in the red zone, and I'll say this, we miss number nine (DeVante Parker). We had some opportunities in the red zone and didn't score."
Three second half turnovers - two fumbles and an interception - limited offensive scoring opportunities. Louisville went scoreless in a quarter for the first time since defeating Rutgers last season. Holding a slim 17-10 advantage late in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater connected with Eli Rogers for the only points in the final frame.
While the final score wasn't what most anticipated, the final stat book proves that the Louisville offense was effective moving the ball, racking up nearly 500 yards of offense. Bridgewater completed a pass to nine different receivers and finished with 310 yards and 2 touchdowns. Damian Copeland set new career highs with 8 receptions and 115 yards. Highlighted by Senorise Perry's 104 yards - 30 more yards than the Rutgers defense per game average - the Cardinals ground attack amassed 151 yards.
While there seems to some disappointment in the scoring total of the offense, the play of the defense furthered defined this Cardinal squad.
Led by safety Calvin Pryor's career-high 14 tackles and defensive end Marcus Smith's 3 sacks, the defense registered 11 tackles for a loss, including 8 sacks, and four interceptions.
The Scarlet Knights offense averaged 423 yards of total offense and 40 points per game when prior to facing the Louisville defense. Against the Cardinals, they managed just 240 yards and 10 points.
"We were able to get pressure with four down and play coverage in the backend," Strong said. "It was just fun to watch that game and how aggressive we were and watch our defense get stops."
The defense continued to be one of the toughest in the country to convert third downs against, as Rutgers managed just 3 of 13 attempts.
Kicker John Wallace converted a 24-yard field goal for the first points of the game, but that was the lone highlight for the special teams on Thursday night.
Wallace had a 24-yard field goal attempt blocked in the third quarter and had a fourth quarter 45-yard attempt sail right.
Punter Ryan Johnson had just one punt. Punting from inside the Cardinals 10 yard line, his kick traveled just 32 yards - 14 yards short of his season average.
The score didn't resemble it, but, minus the out of character turnovers, the Cardinals had another impressive outing. Facing their stiffest challenge to date, the Cardinals moved the ball on offense and the defense shut down the Scarlet Knights.
"We came away with a victory and it was a good game," Strong said. "Rutgers played well also. If you're sitting there with someone watching the game, you're probably saying, ‘This is a really good football game.' You've got two outstanding teams and we're able to play well on offense with our quarterback - even though he threw an interception and got hit from the blind side, we still played well. And on defense, we were able to put pressure and the kicking game we played well. I think we showed the country we have a good football team."