Preview: Rutgers travels to Louisville

Rutgers still has its sights set on the Meineke Bowl, but likely will have to win out to have a shot to get there. The Scarlet Knights travel to Louisville, which is eliminated from bowl contention, for an 11 a.m. kickoff. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Where do the Scarlet Knights hold the advantages? What are the concerns? Will Rutgers bounce back? Find out the answers here.

Concerns whether Syracuse exposed Rutgers' weaknesses permeated all week, and questions about the Scarlet Knights handling multiple blitz packages, and their inability to stop the option became lightning-rod points.

Suddenly, the feeling Rutgers could finish 10-2 and get to the Gator Bowl were flushed, and fears of going 7-5 and heading to the International Bowl became all too real.

Now, Rutgers travels to Louisville, which is wrapping up another poor season (11 a.m., ESPN2), after which coach Steve Kragthorpe could lose his job in the hours after the game, and one thing stands out:

Louisville is a bad team.

The Cardinals (4-7, 1-5) lost 11 of their last 13 Big East games, are 81st in the nation in rushing (132.2 ypg), 109th in scoring (18.5 ppg), 80th in third down conversions (38 percent) and totaled 22 offensive touchdowns.

And they are worse in the Big East, where they average 14.3 points per game, been outscored 42-7 in the first quarter and 71-6 in the third quarter, and allow nearly 30 points a game.

Forget about Rutgers shellacking the Cardinals 63-14 last year on national television because that should not be a factor because of the talent gap.

This should also be a Louisville team ready for the season to end since it is no bowl eligible, and is finishing a ridiculous schedule in which it is playing for the 11th consecutive week.

Rutgers offense vs. Louisville's defense
The Scarlet Knights cannot fall behind by multiple scores early because the offense, with freshman quarterback Tom Savage, is not built for it.

The running game is only effective when the defense is loosened by the pass, and the passing game can only be effective if the threat of a running game exists.

Rutgers' offensive line was brutalized by Syracuse, yielding nine sacks while being confused about where the next blitz was coming from. Stunts, shifts and movement of the blitz pressure points where mixed effectively, and kept the Scarlet Knights offense from generating anything.

This is also Savage's first opportunity to bounce back from a horrific performance. He did not play well against Florida International, but when he returned after a concussion it was against Texas Southern.

Savage was 7 of 17 for 66 yards yards and two interceptions against Syracuse, and several times held onto the ball too long and absorbed a sack.

Certainly, Louisville will try to pressure Savage via the blitz, but he and the offense had a week to understand how Louisville will try change defensive fronts, and the Scarlet Knights should be better prepared to adjust on the fly.

The level at which receiver Tim Brown (44 catches, 927 yards) can function at is also crucial. He was hampered by a sprained ankle in practice, and coach Greg Schiano called him a game-time decision.

His availability is a key since he is Rutgers' only receiver capable of stretching a defense, but even that could be hampered. When he returned after injuring his ankle against Syracuse, his routes included very few cuts.

Since Mark Harrison (head) may not be available, the absence of Brown would cause the Scarlet Knights to use their fourth (Julian Hayes) and fifth receivers (Keith Stroud) on a regular basis. And remember what the search for a third consistent receiver was like before Harrison took over a month ago?

The importance of having Brown reasonably healthy is also monumental given Louisville's shaky secondary. The Cardinals used four starting cornerbacks opposite junior Johnny Patrick, and used five safety combinations. Chaz Thompson, who also started games at safety, is slated to start opposite of Patrick while seniors Richard Raglin and Justin Mathews are the first choices at safety.

Opponents are completing 65 percent of their passes against Louisville's porous secondary, and averaging 4.2 yards per rush against the defense, which should give the Scarlet Knights the opportunity to set up the run with Savage's right arm.

Even after the disastrous results of last week, Savage is 116 for 215 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He should be able to take care of the football well enough for running back Joe Martinek (156 carries, 784 yards) to be effective in the second half.

Meanwhile, the evolving "Wildcat'' package with receiver Mohamed Sanu taking the direct snap continues to improve, and could provide the needed change of tempo rushing attack in the first half.

Louisville's offense vs. Rutgers' defense
The Scarlet Knights should dominate. Unless something goes haywire (and what are the chances of that, right?), Rutgers' defense should dominate this game.

Even during the debacle at Syracuse, a halftime adjustment limited the Orange to a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and that was after a confusing first half.

Louisville's top running back, Victor Anderson, is not expected to play. Starting quarterback Adam Froman completes 60.7 percent of his passes, but has five touchdowns to go with five interceptions.

The Cardinal have 22 offensive touchdowns, and only eight have come via the passing game. Oh, and the Cardinals don't protect their quarterback. They yielded 35 sacks, which ranks 113th nationally.

Scott Long is the leading receiver (46 catches, 661 yards) but the mind-boggling statistic belongs to teammate Doug Beamouth. He has 35 catches this season (440 yards), and 97 in his career, but is yet to grab one for a touchdown.

Josh Chichester, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is the latest of the tall receivers the Scarlet Knights will have to deal with, but playing him physical at the line of scrimmage and punishing him in the secondary can limit his effectiveness.

Louisville is no better running the ball than throwing it. The Cardinal lost two guards to season-ending injuries, and is averaging 57.5 rushing yards in its last two games.

The loss of Alexander, who ran for 1,047 yards last season, is detrimental, but not crushing. Freshman Darius Ashley ran for 164 yards against West Virginia, and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

Furthermore, Louisville has only six days to prepare since being knocked out of bowl contention, and Kragthorpe is not the type of coach to drastically alter an offense in a week's time. While the Cardinal may incorporate some option into the equation, is doesn't figure to be nearly as heavy as what Syracuse did.

Rutgers defense has held six opponents to 15 points or less, is 22ndd in the nation in total defense (316.6 ypg) and is yielding 17.1 points per game.

Special teams
This is where Rutgers can really excel, and take control early. The Scarlet Knights blocked three kicks last week, and also have their kick return game in order with Devin McCourty. Rutgers' Teddy Dellaganna is averaging 42.9 yards per punt.

The concern is how effective placekicker San San Te can be after injuring his leg last week, although he returned to make a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Te has been inconsistent, making 15 of 23. If he is unfit, left-footed freshman Kyle Sullivan will step in.

Louisville, meanwhile, made 12 of 17 field goals this season, including sophomore Chris Philpott going 4 for 4. Trent Guy broke a 60-yard punt return for a score, but he has only returned five others. He also is averaging 29.5 yards per kickoff return.

Cardinals punter Cory Goettsche is averaging 40.5 yards per punt, but has downed only 11 inside the 20.

Prediction: Rutgers 23, Louisville 17

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