NCAA : Thursday Football

NCAA : Thursday Football

Cardinals playing for pride, .500 season against Rutgers
November 26, 2007

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- This isn't the season finale Steve Kragthorpe had in mind.

When the Cardinals (5-6, 2-4 Big East) host Rutgers (7-4, 3-3) on Thursday, there will be no spot in the Bowl Championship Series at stake.

The magic that surrounded last year's matchup -- when both teams entered the game with a Top 10 ranking and legitimate national title hopes -- is gone.

Instead, Kragthorpe's tumultuous first year with the defending Big East champions will likely end at the gun thanks to a shaky defense, a handful of shocking losses and a series of off-the-field problems that have left fans wondering if he's up to the job of keeping the Cardinals atop the conference.

Kragthorpe has tried his best to settle things down. He conducted a hastily called news conference last week to dismiss rumors that he was considering leaving for another job.

On Monday, Kragthorpe reiterated his desire to remain with the Cardinals while admitting the season has not come close to meeting the program's lofty expectations. Louisville began the year ranked in the Top 10, only to quickly tumble to the bottom of the Big East.

"I don't think anybody -- our players, the coaches, the administration, the fans -- like the situation we're in," Kragthorpe said. "Yet the thing we can control right now is our attitude and our effort and the way in which we approach this game and the way we prepare for it."

The Cardinals hope they're better prepared to send 17 seniors off victoriously than they were two weeks ago in a 55-17 debacle at South Florida. The loss was immediately followed by speculation that Kragthorpe was entertaining an offer from Southern Methodist University.

Kragthorpe said he was in Pennsylvania recruiting following the loss to the Bulls and said he called the news conference because he was worried a media frenzy would develop if he didn't speak up.

"I was trying to put everything to bed and let everyone know what my mindset is, what my stance is on my tenure here," Kragthorpe said. "I want to be the coach at Louisville, and to do that, I'm going to have to win games."

Yet when pressed on whether he'd been contacted by anyone from SMU, Kragthorpe was noncommittal. The Mustangs have declined to comment on any coaching candidates until the search is complete.

"That's something that we really don't need to go into because it either puts me or them in a bad situation, so we'll just move on," he said.

Beating the Scarlet Knights would help. Though the season will end a month sooner than he would have liked, Kragthorpe said the value of ending the year on a high note can't be underestimated.

"I think any time you play the last game of the season, whether you're playing a bowl game or you're playing the last regular-season game, you want to win that game because it gives you a little positive spring in your step as you head into January," he said.

It would also be a fitting goodbye to players like quarterback Brian Brohm, who bypassed a shot at the NFL last spring to return for a senior season that hasn't turned out the way he planned.

"Losing that game definitely put us out of the national title hunt last year, we remember all that, and we want to get back at them and try and win this thing," Brohm said.

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Re: NCAA : Thursday Football

Game Preview for Rutgers vs Louisville

STATS:
Site: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium (42,000) -- Louisville, Kentucky. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Rutgers 5-3, Louisville 3-2. Away Record: Rutgers 2-1, Louisville 2-4. Neutral Record: Rutgers 0-0, Louisville 0-0. Conference Record: Rutgers 3-3, Louisville 2-4. Series Record: Rutgers leads, 5-1.

GAME NOTES: The Louisville Cardinals will try to become bowl eligible this Thursday, as they take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Big East play at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals enter their regular season finale with just a 5-6 mark and need a win in this game to become bowl eligible for the 10th straight season. While a win will give the program the minimum amount of wins to be considered for a bowl game, a spot in the postseason is by no means a lock considering Louisville is guaranteed a losing Big East (2-4) campaign. Not matter what happens, the Cardinals' 2007 campaign will be regarded as disappointing, as they were nationally-ranked and considered a national title contender at the beginning of the season. The team has been knocked off repeatedly and it has dropped its last two games, including a 55-17 beating at the hands of South Florida on November 17th. As for Rutgers, it has already clinched bowl eligibility and is now searching for another winning campaign in the Big East. The team most recently defeated Pittsburgh, 20-16, on November 17th to pull to an even 3-3 in conference play. It was the second victory in a row for the Knights, who have now won at least seven games for the third straight season. The last time the program accomplished that feat was from 1978-80. Rutgers leads the all-time series with Louisville, 5-1, and that includes a 28-25 triumph last season in what is being considering the biggest win in the program's history. The two teams were both highly ranked and undefeated in 2006 and the Knights came out on top at home and handed the Cardinals their only loss of the season.

Rutgers' offense revolves around its ground attack, which is averaging 193.5 ypg behind the powerful running of Ray Rice. One of three finalists for the 2007 Doak Walker Award, Rice leads the Big East with 1,612 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns for the season. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in six straight games and he has totaled over 100 yards on eight occasions this season. In the team's last game, Rice rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, leading the Knights to a 20-16 victory over Pittsburgh. It was a gritty performance by Rice, as he had to pick up the slack for quarterback Mike Teel, who has been playing with a thumb injury. Teel was obviously bothered by the injury in the Pittsburgh game, as he completed just 3-of-9 tosses for 98 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. On a positive note, Teel had an extra week to rest and he should be ready for this game. That is obviously good news, considering he has thrown for 2,579 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Tiquan Underwood will certainly be happy to see a healthy Teel under center, as he has been his main target this season, leading the squad with 58 catches, 965 receiving yards and six scores.

Defensively, the Knights have done a solid job slowing down their opponents this season, as they are giving up just 20.1 ppg and only 305.2 total ypg. The unit has been especially strong against the pass, yielding just 153.6 ypg and only 10 touchdowns through the air. Getting to opposing quarterbacks is another strength of this unit, which has 30 sacks to its credit. In the club's most recent outing, Rutgers put forth a tremendous effort on defense, as it limited Pittsburgh to a mere 219 total yards, including only 108 via the pass. The Knights also forced four turnovers, in addition to recording three sacks in the win. Kevin Malast led the charge with 11 tackles and a sack, and he leads the team with 84 stops for the year.

For Louisville, its strength on offense resides on its passing game and that is accounting for 351.5 of the team's 489.0 total ypg. Quarterback Brian Brohm is in the midst of another tremendous campaign and he leads the Big East with an average of 344.3 passing ypg. Brohm has also thrown for a school-record tying 29 touchdowns passes, which also leads the league. Brohm however, is coming off his worst performance of the season, as he threw for just 213 yards and a touchdown against three interceptions in a lopsided loss to USF. It was an uncharacteristic performance from Brohm, who completed just 18-of-37 tosses in the setback. Harry Douglas though, had another big game, as he pulled down eight balls that went for 136 yards and a score. In just nine games this season, Douglas leads the Cardinals with 70 catches and 1,113 receiving yards and he is tied for the team-lead with seven receiving touchdowns. Tight end Gary Barnidge is another weapon Brohm has utilized and he ranks second with 48 catches and 590 yards. He is also tied with Douglas for touchdown catches.

The big problem for Louisville this season has been its defense, which is allowing 30.8 ppg and 416.4 total ypg. The unit hasn't shown it can stop the run (166.5 ypg) or the pass (249.9 ypg), and it has recorded just seven interceptions and only 17 sacks. In the club's last contest, the Cardinals were torched by USF for 481 total yards, including 230 on the ground. The defense gave up six touchdowns in the game and allowed USF to convert 7-of-15 third down attempts. Lamar Myles paced the club in the loss with 14 tackles, while Deon Palmer accounted for both of the team's sacks. On the season, Myles has clearly been the team's best defensive player, as his 120 tackles are nearly triple the next closest player on the roster.

Louisville has a lot on the line, so expect it to come out with a lot of energy. The Cardinals have the edge playing at home and behind the strong arm of Brohm, they should be able to come out on top in a close one.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 34, Rutgers 28

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Rutgers (7-4, 5-5 ATS) at Louisville (5-6, 3-7 ATS)

A pair of Big East rivals who entered the year with high expectations conclude disappointing regular seasons with a clash at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where Louisville hosts Rutgers.

The host Cardinals, who need a win tonight to become bowl-eligible, carry a two-game losing skid into this contest, most recently falling 55-17 at South Florida as a nine-point road underdog two weeks ago. Four of Louisville’s last five games have been played on the road, with the lone home contest being a 24-17 victory over Pitt as a 10-point chalk.

The Scarlet Knights arrive in Louisville off a pair of wins over Army (41-6 on the road) and Pitt (20-16 at home). Rutgers has strung together a pair of two-game winning streaks and a pair of two-game losing skids over its last eight games, going just 3-5 ATS during this stretch.

Rutgers sacked Cardinals star quarterback Brian Brohm five times and rallied from an 18-point deficit in last year’s thrilling 28-25 upset win as a 5½-point underdog, a victory that ended Louisville’s unbeaten season and national championship hopes. However, the last time they visited Papa John’s Stadium, the Scarlet Knights got rocked 56-5 as a 22½-point road underdog.

Louisville entered this season on a 16-2 ATS roll at home. This year, however, the Cardinals are 0-4 ATS on their own turf, including a pair of outright upset losses to Utah and Syracuse. On the bright side, they have won eight of their last nine home finales (7-2 ATS).

The Scarlet Knights have played just three road games this year, going 2-1 SU and ATS. The visitor is 7-1 ATS in Rutgers’ last eight on the highway.

Louisville is 9-3 ATS in its last 12 November games, but 1-6 ATS in its last seven as a favorite.

Rutgers is on ATS runs of 12-4 against teams with a losing record, 11-5-1 as a road underdog, 4-1 following a bye week and 4-0 when playing on Thursday.

The over is on streaks of 8-3 for Rutgers in November, 7-3-1 for Rutgers when playing on grass and 4-1 for Louisville at home.

ATS ADVANTAGE: RUTGERS and OVER

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Rutgers at Louisville
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Rutgers (7-4, 3-3 Big East) at Louisville (5-6, 2-4 Big East)
Thursday, November 29
7:30 PM ET on ESPN
Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium (Natural Grass)

Southern Cal proved last week that despite having two losses on their record, this team might be playing as well as any program out there right now. Unfortunately for the Trojans, those aforementioned losses will keep them from getting a shot at the title but considering what a whacky season it has been, it wouldn’t feel right for the prohibitive favorite to have won it anyhow. Just hard to believe that of all the teams on their schedule, a loss to Stanford will keep the Trojans from getting a title shot. Like I said, its been a crazy season.

Nonetheless, the strong late season play from Pete Carroll’s crew made for an easy winner (-3) last weekend when USC took control early at Arizona State and then pulled away in the second half for an easy win (44-24) and cover.

That win in my pocket, I now sit at 8-5 on Thursday nights for the year. 8-6 (57%) wouldn’t be the end of the world but 9-5 (64%) is my goal so with that in mind, lets take a look at the last Thursday night regular season game of the year.

While I already mentioned the “disappointing” season for Southern Cal, you can’t get too bummed out for the Trojans since they are more than likely headed to the Rose Bowl – not too shabby a postseason destination.

No, for true disappointment look no further than the Louisville Cardinals. This is a program that was coming off a winning effort in a BCS Bowl (Orange) and had its best player (QB Brian Brohm) spurn the NFL to return for his senior season. Those two factors went a long way in explaining why everyone had this school in their preseason Top Ten and some even had the Cardinals as a darkhorse to win it all, thinking they might run the table.

Think again.

Louisville currently sits at 5-6, not even eligible for postseason consideration. That obviously means there is some extra motivation for the Cardinals as they face Rutgers this Thursday, although a win doesn’t even guarantee that Louisville will go bowling.

So what went wrong for the boys that play at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium? Well, for starters it certainly didn’t help when Coach Bobby Petrino bolted for the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons at the end of last season.

That said, his replacement was Tulsa’s Steve Kragthorpe, a coach that many had pegged for stardom so conventional wisdom said the Cardinals would be fine.

Maybe they eventually will but there have been a lot of growing pains this season for sure.

The main issue resides on the defensive side of the ball. If you can even call what Louisville does as playing defense? The Cardinals are currently ranked 85th in the nation in total defense and will have their hands full with Rutgers coming to town.

At 7-4, the Scarlet Knights have been a modest disappointment themselves. Still, the team is likely heading to Toronto to play in the International Bowl on Jan. 5 against either Bowling Green (8-4) or Ball State (7-5).

Rutgers boasts one of the top running backs in the country in Ray Rice. The junior will likely come up short in his bid to win Doak Walker Award as the nations best running back – something tells me Darren McFadden of Arkansas has that one in the bag – but make no mistake, this is one of the most electric players in the nation.

Combine Rice with the potent passing attack of QB Mike Teel and WRs Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt and you’ll see why many aren’t optimistic about Louisville’s chances.

On paper it appears that for Louisville to win this game it will have to take down Rutgers in a shoot out. But can the Cardinals put up a lot of points on the Scarlet Knights? That is likely where this game will be decided and considering that Rutgers has the eighth-ranked defense in the land – and #2 against the pass – the pass oriented Louisville offense could be in for another tough night.

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