On Oct. 25, Louisville stood 5-2 after upsetting then #14 USF 24-20. There was a positive vibe about the Cardinals heading down the stretch. On that same day, Rutgers, who lost five of their first six games this season, owned an ugly 3-5 record and faced lots of questions about the remainder of their season.
Now fast forward to December. The tables have turned.
Louisville has now lost four straight games and has seen its overall record dip below .500 (5-6). The Cardinals are also in last place in the Big East standings with a 1-5 league mark just two years after winning the league title. Unless Louisville finds a way to win on the road at Rutgers Thursday night, the Cardinals will post their first losing season since 1997 and be left out in the cold this bowl season for a second straight year.
Rutgers, on the other hand, enters Thursday's game as, perhaps, the Big East's hottest team. The Scarlet Knights have won five straight games since a 13-10 loss to Cincinnati in early October and a win over Louisville will guarantee Sciano's program a fourth-straight bowl appearance.
"I think it's going to be a heck of a matchup," Kragthorpe said on Monday's Big East coaches conference. "They are playing extremely well right now – obviously the five game winning streak. I think Mike (Teel) is playing extremely efficient and with Tiquan (Underwood) and Kenny (Britt) they've got vertical threats that can catch the ball and make things happen with it. And they're running the ball better than they did early in the season. So I think they're really starting to hit their stride on offense."
While Rutgers' offense has made big strides this season, it's been Sciano's defense that has fueled the team's late season turnaround. The Scarlet Knights rank 35th nationally in total defense and have not allowed more than 17 points in five of their last six games. That's not a good sign for a Louisville offense that has been held scoreless in 7 of its last 16 quarters and hasn't scored more than seven points in any quarter the past four games.
"On the defensive side of the ball, Greg does a tremendous job of trying to confuse you with multiple blitz looks and they play extremely hard," Kragthorpe said. "They fly around. They create turnovers."
Turnovers has been a major problem for the Louisville offense all season long. In their last outing, a 35-21 loss to West Virginia, the Cardinals committed five turnovers. During its four-game losing streak, the Cardinals have committed 14 turnovers. That hasn't hurt Louisville's chances of winning – it's killed them.
"They're much like our team," said Kragthorpe. "In the games that they've played well they've taken care of the ball. In the games that they haven't they've turned it over. That's our situation right now. We've won five times and turned it over six times in those games. We've lost six times and turned it over 22 times in those games."
When asked, Sciano couldn't point to one defining moment that helped turn around his team's season. Instead, Sciano credited his players with putting in extra preparation time to turn things around.
"It was a gradual process," Sciano said. "We had some young guys that were working into positions and I thought it was going to happen a little sooner than it did. But they kept driving at it and we've started to win some games."
"When you're winning games there's a positive feeling around the (team)," Scinao added.
Kragthorpe hopes the extra time between his team's loss to the Mountaineers and Thursday night's contest against Rutgers will help his team in their quest to become bowl eligible.
"The thing that really helped us this week was we got a little refreshed in terms of some injuries," Kragthorpe said. "So I thought it was very beneficial for those guys to get a couple of extra days of treatment."