Preview: Louisville at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers needs to win its final two games to get a sixth straight bowl, and that means a win against Louisville in Friday's home finale (11 a.m., ESPN2) is needed. ScarletReport.com has the storylines, the scouting reports, the key matchup, keys to a win for both sides and more in the preview

Louisville (5-6, 2-4) at Rutgers (4-6, 1-4)


Time: 11 a.m., Rutgers Stadium
TV/Radio: EPSN2.com/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: Rutgers leads, 7-2
Last meeting: Nov. , 2009: Rutgers won, 34-14
Coaches: Rutgers – Greg Schiano (10th season, 59-61); Louisville – Charlie Strong (5-6, 1st season)

Storylines

  • Bowl eligibility. The loser will not go to a bowl game this season. If Louisville wins, it is bowl eligible and likely heading to a bowl game. If Rutgers wins, it will need to win next week at West Virginia to go a bowl game.

  • How much fight is left in the Scarlet Knights? A four-game losing streak filled with close losses and the Eric LeGrand injury conspired to emotionally exhaust the Scarlet Knights. What do they have left in the tank?

  • How will the weather influence the game. Rainy, gusty winds and cold temperatures are forecast for the black Friday affair. It won't be pretty off the field, but what will that mean on it?

Scouting Rutgers
Rutgers hasn't picked up the blitz all season, and Louisville likes to blitz, so that doesn't bode well for a drop-back passing game. The Scarlet Knights countered Syracuse's blitzes with run after run out of the Wildcat.

Jeremy Deering did a fantastic job against the Orange, but after studying the game tape of the Scarlet Knights' jumbo package of using Art Forst at tight end and Antwan Lowery in the backfield, Louisville shut the Wildcat down.

Antwan Lowery
The way Rutgers countered South Florida's up-field pass rush was to throw short passes, and that may be a way to beat Louisville's aggressive, blitzing defense, if the receivers can gain separation at the line of scrimmage or find holes in the middle of the defense.

The Scarlet Knights' defense was the strong point all season, but busted assignment after busted assignment plagued them in yielding 69 points last week at Cincinnati.

Louisville presents a different challenge because it can run the ball and control the clock, which means an already tired defense could get warn down if the offense doesn't help.

Scouting Louisville
First-year coach Charlie Strong has made some perplexing, first-year coach type of calls, especially going for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime against South Florida a few weeks ago.

The Cardinals come as losers of three of the last four games, including home defeats to USF and West Virginia, but they have been involved in a number of close games.

Justin Burke
Justin Burke will make his third straight start at quarterback despite leading Louisville to a season-low 171 yards in last week's loss to the Mountaineers.

Bilal Powell leads a powerful rushing attack that averages 177.2 yards per game. He has run for 1,207 yards (6.4 per carry), but the passing game leaves a lot to be desired.

Doug Beaumont had a team-high 34 catches, but has found the end zone just once. Josh Bellamy has a team-high five touchdown catches.

The 6-foot-9 Josh Chichester, who splits time at receiver and tight end, is a handful to cover because of his size, but it is tight end Cameron Graham who is a bigger influence in the offense. He has 33 catches for 397 yards.

Defensively, the Cardinals bring pressure and tackle well. The last five opponents have been held under 300 yards of total offense, and it begins with pressuring the quarterback. Defensive end Rodney Gnat has a team-leading eight sacks.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd vs. Louisville's blitzes. The Cardinals will try to confuse the freshman signal caller, and if Dodd can recognize the blitzes early, he can make the hot reads and get his receivers in one-on-one coverage for big plays. Conversely, if Dodd cannot get rid of the ball quickly, there will be a lot of sacks.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
Control the ball. It doesn't matter if it is the Wildcat, the short passing game, Dodd scrambling or the fumbleruski, Rutgers needs to move the chains and not be a three-and-out machine. It will give the defense rest, but also give the defense the belief every possession will not decide the game.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Make sure their psyche isn't so beat up it comes in with a defeated feeling. Certainly, Louisville can run the ball, but the Cardinals are not a great offensive team. Their high point total in Big East play is 28 points.

Three keys for a Rutgers win
Rutgers LB Antonio Lowery
1. Find emotion. It has been a long, draining season and Rutgers Stadium is expected to be a third empty for the home finale on what may be a bad weather day. The season is not over, but it will be if this game is lost.

2. Run the ball well out of the Wildcat. Yes, fans think it adversely affects the passing game, but no team wins running for 12 yards on 23 carries. Something has to be done to take pressure off Dodd, and this is the only option.

3. Make Louisville throw the ball. The Cardinals average less than 200 passing yards per game, and rely heavily on the run.

Three keys for a Louisville win
1. Punish Rutgers' defense with the running game. Already bruised and battered from allowing 69 points last season, keeping the Scarlet Knights' defense on the field for 10-play drives will dig deep into their will.

2. Blitz, blitz and blitz. Rutgers hasn't picked up the blitz in more than a year. Why would that change now?

3. Don't turn the ball over. Louisville has turned the ball over 15 times this season, and taking care of it means Rutgers' offense will be forced to go 70 to 80 yards for a score.

Prediction
Rutgers 27, Louisville 25

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