"Now the biggest game in Louisville history is this Rutgers game coming up," Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm said just moments after the leading the Cardinals to a 44-34 victory over Mountaineers.
While Rutgers had the week off to prepare for Thursday's showdown, the Cardinals must rebound quickly from their huge win over West Virginia. That means they'll have to prepare themselves for what figures to be another emotionally charged game against a nationally-ranked opponent.
"The biggest challenge for Louisville is a let down," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said. "That's why it was great to hear Brian Brohm already focused and talking about playing a very good Rutgers team on the road (right after the game). It will take a similar effort by Louisville (this) week to win against the Scarlet Knights."
What it will likely take for Louisville to move to 9-0 is a big effort against Rutgers dynamic running back duo. Sophomore Ray Rice, the nation's third-leading rusher, leads a potent ground attack, while bull-dozing fullback Brian Leonard provides power and versatility to the Scarlet Knights attack.
"We've got to do a great job to stop two really good running backs," Louisville's Bobby Petrino said. "They're very physical up front and they have been living with the run. They're running backs have done a good job taking care of the ball and not making mistakes."
The 5'9, 195-pound Rice has established himself as Rutgers go-to running back this season, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"They've featured him more this year," Petrino said. "He's not very tall, but he's very strong and physical and has speed. We have to do a good job not letting him get past the line of scrimmage. He's a better runner when he gets past the first five yards. So it will be important for us to limit the yardage right at the line of scrimmage and make sure we do a great job with our gap control defense."
Though Leonard has received limited touches in the running game with Rice's emergence this year, he's still a threat in the passing game. Leonard leads Rutgers with 23 receptions this season.
will have to come up big against
Ray Rice and Rutgers potent rushing
"He is a treat catching the ball out of the backfield and he's a big concern for us," Petrino said.
Rutgers has used a strong running game combined with a stingy defense to win their first eight games. The Scarlet Knights are small up front, but have plenty of speed and athleticism. They've shutout two opponents and only South Florida has scored 20 points.
"Defensively, they're such a challenge because they like to pressure and they're fast," Petrino said. "They're not big, but they are fast and they move everybody around."
Louisville's offensive line will play a key role for the Cardinals chances of victory. If they give Brohm time to throw, the Louisville quarterback could have a big night against Rutgers' secondary. In last years 56-5 win over Rutgers, Brohm picked the Knights apart, throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns.
"They do a nice job with their pass rush," Petrino said. "If we can get time, I think we can get some guys open. They like to blitz and bring extra guys and that's really how they defend the pass. They mix their coverages up and we're going to have to do a good job making sure we protect the quarterback. If we do, we'll have an opportunity to hit some passes downfield."
Petrino said he'll again seek a balanced attack this week.
"Our ability to run and throw the ball will be critical for us," Petrino said. "Connecticut ran the ball real well on them. They had a young man that broke some big runs. You've got to block the front and you've got to be able to handle the drop linebacker or safety. They're always going to try to get an extra guy in the box to try and stop the run. If we can get our guys into the secondary I think we'll have an opportunity to make some big plays. Our speed will show up if we can get past the front seven and into the secondary."
Louisville's running game has shown signs of life the past two games against Syracuse and West Virginia. Senior Kolby Smith has stepped up his play and freshman Anthony Allen has emerged as a reliable short yardage back.
"Kolby is back doing a great job and Anthony Allen ran the ball very well," Petrino said. "Brock Bolen was a little bit banged up and wasn't at full speed (against WVU), and we need to get George Stripling back involved and making some big runs for us."
Stripling, Louisville's second-leading rusher, didn't get a carry against the Mountaineers Thursday night. Petrino has given no reason for his limited role, but the 6'1 sophomore has had some fumble problems this season.
"It's going to be a great game and a lot of fun for us to prepare and work to get the victory," Petrino said.