Game Preview:Rutgers-Louisville

After playing six of its last seven games at noon, it's time for Rutgers (6-5, 4-2 Big East) to step back into prime time for the season finale against Louisville (5-6, 1-4) Thursday night at Rutgers Stadium. RU can guarantee itself a bowl spot with a win against the Cardinals, who are looking to become bowl eligible themselves with a win against the Scarlet Knights.

TIME/TV

ESPN will broadcast the 7:30 Eastern Time game, with Chris Fowler, Craig James and Jesse Palmer handling play-by-play duties and Erin Andrews serving as the sideline reporter.


SCOUTING LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals started the season 5-2, but they have dropped four straight and stand tied with Syracuse for the worst conference record. The schedule set up well for Louisville with eight home games, but the Cards were just 4-4 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium this year.

It's the second straight season Louisville has faded late. The Cardinals lost three of their last four to enter the Rutgers game 5-6 last year before they toppled the Scarlet Knights to finish the 2007 campaign.


OFFENSE

Hunter Cantwell took over for Brian Brohm at quarterback this season after backing up the star for three seasons. He has been fair to middling as the starter, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Cantwell has thrown at least one interception in eight straight games, including three picks during a 35-21 home loss to West Virginia on Nov. 22. He has not thrown for 300 yards this season, and he ranks sixth in the Big East in pass efficiency.

Part of the reason Cantwell doesn't have stellar numbers is that Louisville lost its best receivers - Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas - to the National Football League last year. Doug Beaumont leads the team with 54 receptions, but lanky freshman receiver Josh Chichester averages 11.4 yards per catch and has scored twice this season. Sophomore Troy Pascley is also dangerous but streaky.

While Louisville built its reputation as a passing offense the last few years, the Cardinals have been more efficient moving the ball on the ground this season. Vic Anderson leads the team with 94 yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns. However, Brock Bolen, a bruising senior fullback/running back is the type of player who can beat opposing defenses into submission. He has scored six times and averages 4.2 yards per carry. Bolen victimized RU last year with 117 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries (9.0 yards per rush), including a touchdown run that tied the game midway through the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals, who average 382 yards of total offense and 25.6 points per game, face a Rutgers defense that yields 324.5 yards per game and 18.9 points per game.

DEFENSE

Statistically, Louisville has one of the worst defenses in the Big East. The Cardinals have been outscored 295-282 by opponents, including a 103-64 margin in the fourth quarter. Louisville allows 341.4 yards per game and 26.8 points per game while yielding 220.5 yards through the air. All marks are next to last in the Big East.

The Cardinals, who run a 4-3 defense with a nose guard, tackle and two ends, are also dreadful in turnover margin, ranking 108th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. UL has turned the ball over 28 times while forcing 18 turnovers, including a deficit of minus 10 during the current four-game losing streak.

Louisville allowed 498 yards of total offense to West Virginia on Nov. 22 and turned the ball over five times. The Cardinals go up against a Rutgers offense that averaged 42 points per game and 466.8 yards of total offense per game over the last four contests.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Freshman place-kicker Ryan Payne took over field goal duties midway through this season and has been erratic, making three of his six attempts. He missed his only attempt of at least 40 yards, a 45-yard attempt against Cincinnati on Nov. 14. Chris Philpott, who started the season as UL's place-kicker, is still the kickoff specialist for the Cardinals and has been spotty in that duty as well. Philpott has kicked four attempts out of bounds this season.

Punter Cory Goettsche is last in the Big East with a 39.5 yards per punt average. Nearly one-third of his punts have pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line.

Louisville's return game has been anemic this season, especially its kickoff return unit that is 112th nationally with an average of 18.6 yards per return.

HEAD TO HEAD

The last two contests between the schools have been exciting affairs, with Rutgers bursting onto the national stage with a 28-25 win two years ago in Piscataway and Louisville raging back from an 18-point deficit to score a 41-38 victory at Louisville last season.

Rutgers is 5-2 all-time against Louisville but 1-2 versus UL since the Cardinals joined the Big East. The Scarlet Knights are 3-0 against Louisville at Rutgers Stadium.


TRENDS/NOTES

Steve Kragthorpe (40-34 career record) is 11-12 as the head coach of Louisville. . . . Anderson became the first Louisville running back since 2005 to register 1,000 yards when he ran for 61 yards on eight rushes against West Virginia to reach 1,034 yards for the season. . . . UL entered the West Virginia game ranked eighth in rushing defense and finished ranked 27th. . . . The Cardinals are in danger of missing a bowl game for the second straight season after winning the Big East in 2006.

RU has lost two straight on Thursday night. The Scarlet Knights dropped a 44-12 decision at home against North Carolina on Sept. 11 and lost 41-38 at Louisville in the season finale last Nov. 29. . . . Six teams in NCAA history have started the season 1-5 and qualified for a bowl in the same year. Rice last accomplished that feat in 2006 after winning its last six and qualifying for the New Orleans Bowl, where the Owls were trounced 41-17 by Troy. Pittsburgh is the only Big East team to turn around a 1-5 start, as the Panthers won their last five 2001 regular season contests and beat N.C. State 34-19 in the Tangerine Bowl to complete a run of six straight to finish the year. . . . Rutgers has won its final six regular season games five times in history. The last Scarlet Knights squad to win its final six was the 1976 team that went 11-0 under head coach Frank Burns. . . . RU is on its longest winning streak since starting the season 9-0 in 2006. . . . Thursday's contest is the first December home game for Rutgers since 1962 and the fifth in school history. RU's lone home victory in December came in 1878 against City College of New York.


WEATHER

Early reports from the National Weather Service saw there may be snow and rain in the forecast for Thursday. Game time temperature is expected in the low 30s.


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