U of L hopes Bush can play against Rutgers

No. 23 Louisville (6-2, 2-2) takes on Rutgers (6-3, 3-2) Friday night at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

No. 23 Louisville (6-2, 2-2) will try to win a second consecutive week night Big East game Friday night when the Cardinals host Rutgers (6-3, 3-2) at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

U of L has won two straight, beating Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, since dropping a 46-44 heart-breaker in triple-overtime at West Virginia last month. The Cardinals, who have also won 10 straight games at home, haven't won three games in a row this season.

If the Cardinals are to win their third straight game and keep their Gator Bowl hopes alive and well, they'll likely have to do it without junior running back Michael Bush, the team's leading rusher. According to U of L officials, a decision on Bush's status won't be made until kick-off. But the 6-3, 250-pound Bush didn't practice Wednesday, though he did run during practice.

If Bush can't play, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm said that junior Kolby Smith and redshirt freshman George Strippling will have to step up and assume larger roles in the backfield.

"The other guys will have to step up (if Michael Bush can't play)," Brohm said. "It'll give Kolby a chance to get more carries, and Strippling a chance to get in there more. They'll have to take a bigger role in the offense."

While the game pits the Big East's top two offenses, which team plays better defensively likely will win the game. U of L leads the league in scoring (46.2) and total offense (495.8), with Rutgers right behind in total offense (385.8).

"They're a good football team," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "They run the ball real well. They are very committed to running the football, but they've been able to get big plays throwing the ball."

Rutgers' game plan appears simple; run the ball, slow the game down and keep the explosive Louisville offense off the field.

"We have the athletes to get into a shootout, but we'd rather slow the game down and run the ball," quarterback Ryan Hart told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

While the Cardinals remain uncertain about Bush's status, Rutgers' coach Greg Schiano has his own injury concerns. Sciano told the Star-Ledger Wednesday that backup Mike Teel, a redshirt freshman, will likely start at quarterback instead of the injured Hart, but made clear that decision wasn't set in stone.

"I think Mike is further along in his preparation and his health," Schiano said. "They'll both be ready to play. Mike has been practicing all week and Mike feels better. (But) I'm not going to tell you definitely (Teel will start) in case I change my mind. But it looks like Mike will be the guy to start the game."

Whether Teel or Hart start, they'll hand the ball to a pair of productive backs in tailback Ray Rice, the team's leading rusher, and full back Brian Leonard, who has caught 38 passes this season.

"They have a fullback that catches it a bunch out of the backfield as well as runs the football," Petrino said. "They play him both at tailback and fullback, so he gets a lot of carries and receptions."

Defensively, the U of L offense figures to face a stern challenge from one of the league's top defensive teams. Rutgers has allowed just 21.9 points this season, though South Florida scored 45 points in a win over the Scarlet Knights last week.

"They're not real fancy as far as different formations and all the shifting we've seen from some teams, but they really have executed," Petrino said. "Their defensive front is as active as any we've played this year, and they have more sacks than anyone we've played.

"I think that's been their strength, their ability to sack and hit the other quarterback. They're a little young in the secondary, but they continue to get better each week. It really comes down to how well you protect the quarterback."

Both teams now face must win situations, and Petrino believes that will make for an entertaining contest.

"I think it's going to be a real good football game," said Petrino.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2. Rutgers returned 1,500 tickets earlier this week, and tickets can be purchased at the U of L ticket office at PJCS or by calling (502) 852-5151.

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