Posted October 13, 2013

Louisville misses a few opportunities in unimpressive win vs. Rutgers

American Athletic Conference?, Charlie Strong, Louisville Cardinals, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Teddy Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewather threw his first pick since UL's game vs. Ohio, but still managed a win. (Garry Jones/AP)

Teddy Bridgewather threw his first pick since UL’s game vs. Ohio, but still managed a win. (Garry Jones/AP)

LOUISVILLE – With 26 scouts in attendance from 20 NFL teams, not to mention one CFL scout (shout out Winnipeg Blue Bombers), junior Teddy Bridgewater had a chance to show he might be worthy of the number one pick in next year’s draft. And more importantly, No. 8 Louisville had a chance on national television to prove it is a legitimate BCS Championship contender this season.

Bridgewater and Louisville were far from perfect on offense with leading receiver DeVante Parker out due to a shoulder injury, but they did enough to stay undefeated in a game that never really felt as close as the score indicated, beating Rutgers 24-10 on Thursday night.

Normally a tough win over a conference rival should be cause for celebration. But fair or not, naysayers will point to this close result as a reason Louisville doesn’t belong in the national title conversation.

“Obviously you want to send a message nationally,” Louisville offensive lineman Jake Smith said. “Rutgers is a good team. They’ve beaten a lot of good opponents. I don’t think that game was ever out of control. We always had control throughout the game. We definitely sent that message. But there was more out there for us.”

Louisville doesn’t have a lot of opportunities this year to make its case with a light and unflattering schedule, and this was a very important Thursday night game on ESPN to start to change some minds.

Bridgewater proved why he is such an enticing talent to NFL teams on a lot of plays, showing good footwork, making throws deep in his progression and placing the ball right where his receivers needed it, whether it was dropping it down on a deep ball or getting it in catch-and-run situations.

On one particular play, a 20-yard completion to Damian Copeland, Bridgewater felt the rush coming, got out of the pocket, scrambled and set his feet before putting the ball in exactly the right spot to get Copeland a few more yards after the catch. In another instance, with just over 11 minutes left in the game on a third-and-nine, with a defender left unblocked, Bridgewater got rid of the ball just in time, throwing over the top with touch to Michaelee Harris for 33 yards.

The Louisville quarterback made some uncharacteristic mistakes, though. A couple throws were forced into coverage or sailed on him, and he threw his first interception since the second quarter of the Ohio game (a full 310 minutes and change of game action). Early in the fourth quarter, he took a big hit by Anthony Cioffi and lost a fumble deep in Rutgers territory. Those are plays that happen to every quarterback, but the expectations of the Louisville signal caller hold him to a higher standard.

“We left about 17 points on the field,” Bridgewater said. “We should have easily put up more than 40 points tonight. That’s how confident I am in our team, but we just have to come back and get better.”

Overall, Bridgewater finished the day 21-of-31 for 310 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

When you play the kind of schedule Louisville does, there might be an unfair burden placed on every result, and to some extent every play. Without an SEC or Pac-12 slate and a shot at a bunch of top 25 teams over the course of the year, the Cardinals are expected to play a perfect game every week to keep their lofty ranking.

“When I look at the polls I try not to pay much attention to it,” Louisville wide Damian Copeland, who had eight catches for 115 yards, said. “We can’t do nothing about our schedule.”

It matters little that Rutgers was two points from being undefeated coming into this game or that games between the Scarlet Knights and Cardinals are always a battle. If Bridgewater throws an interception, or Louisville only wins by 14, it’s unforgiveable. If the Cards get a field goal blocked, or the defense gives up a long fourth-down conversion on a fake field goal that leads to a touchdown, as it did with 2:01 left in the second quarter, analysts start to scrutinize.

No team plays a perfect game. Just ask any college coach in America.

Louisville can only face the teams it has penciled in from week to week. The players didn’t make the schedule. And thus far, the Cardinals have done just enough to warrant their high expectations and a top 10 ranking. They’re outscoring teams by a margin of 246-44 and the defense has really improved to keep pace with an already-powerful offense. The Cardinals had a season-high eight sacks, forced four interceptions and held Rutgers to 12 yards rushing.

“I think we’re worthy of our ranking,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said, “and I think we have a really good football team, and I’ll continue to say that. […] People are going to say what they’re going to say. The only thing we can control is how we play on the football field. We just gotta continue to play well.”

This game did little to change the fact Bridgewater should still be a high pick in the NFL Draft, although his Heisman Trophy hopes undoubtedly suffered, and Louisville is still on track to win the AAC barring a disaster.

The reality is the Cardinals are going to need some teams above them in the rankings to slip up to keep their national title hopes alive. Otherwise that schedule – the one thing Strong and Louisville don’t have any control over – could unfortunately be their undoing.

15 comments
nycsports4life
nycsports4life

College football, the only "sport" phony enough that you can win by 14 points and have it be a disappointment, cause if you're in the SEC or Pac-12 and you play a team that's not and don't beat them by 50 points well you must suck, right? B.S. college football with its B.S. ranking system. 

JeffBockert
JeffBockert

Let's be honest here, this isn't the 8th best team in the country. I think they would be the 7th or 8th best team in the Pac 12. The would be lucky to beat Arizona State and Washington State. UCLA would crush this team as would any of the teams currently in the top 10. We need a playoff system badly! 

JoeScott
JoeScott

People underestimate how playing an opponent every year has an equalizing effect.   Rutgers is a good team and they made some plays to keep it close.

MNTom
MNTom

Next year they will be in the ACC Atlantic Division, along with Clemson and Florida State. Should be interesting.

DarrenBunch
DarrenBunch

NCAA football is ridiculously managed. This is the ONLY division of football that doesn't have a true playoff. The other NCAA divisions have actual playoffs where winning is what matters. Voters and "popular" schools shouldn't matter one bit. 

No way blames the BIG schools for playing 3-4 patsies a year to pad their stats. Why blame smaller schools for not winning big enough? The NCCA is full of BS.

Winning on the field is the only way to determine it.

pubsky
pubsky

In defense of Louisville this schedule is the result of conference realignment chaos.  Non-conference games are scheduled years in advance and two years ago 70+% of their conference was different. 

Blinker
Blinker

LOUISVILLE fans are going to hate me, but their team could have lost this game.  We are talking about playing against a team that barely beat SMU (in triple overtime).  Damian Copeland:   "We can't do nothing about our schedule."  He is wrong....  we know your conf schedule is your conf schedule, but you could schedule non-conf games against some top 25 teams.  Don't say you can't find one who will play you because that just makes you look that much more stuck on yourself.  If Louisville was beating ALL these inferior teams (not just some) by 35-50 points that would be one thing but IMHO they have not proven themselves worthy of the BSC game berth they will probably receive.

Nole
Nole

Damian Copeland:   "We can't do nothing about our schedule."

So that means you can do everything right? 

Brien
Brien

@MNTom They play Notre Dame and Va Tech, too. Too bad Teddy didn't get to face a great schedule like that. 

Ryan1
Ryan1

@DarrenBunch  It is a bad system, it is the only sport I know of where in a season you can win all your games and not be the champion.

That being said, most schools that are going to be competing for national titles, schedule 1 or 2 tough out of conference games. Now if you are playing a historically powerful program and they are in a down year, it is hard to fault the team for it, but the ACC, Big 10, Pac 12, and particularly the SEC play tough games week in and out. Louisville is in a weak conference and that will hurt them but they could have done what other top schools do and played signature OOC games.

Alabama played VA Tech, Oregon played Tenn and UVA, Ohio St went to CAL, Clemson plays UGA and SC, etc. At this point, the best team Louisville plays this year is UCF, and I get scheduling the Kentucky game, but that is no different than a team like Penn State playing Temple, it is an in state rival from a "major" conf but they are perennial cellar dwellers.  

Louisville isn't a small school either, this is a school winning major NCAA titles, they are moving to the ACC, they just have a weak schedule. 

Ted3
Ted3

@DarrenBunch Yeah! I can't believe those schools have the nerve of padding their stats with usually 2 "patsies" when they could just pad the entire thing ...

Brien
Brien

@Blinker Well, your post just shows your massive ignorance. I don't hate you for being ignorant. I just think you should research your facts before making bold proclamations. Louisville tried to schedule several teams (Bama, Texas A & M and more) and had two home-and-homes (one with Georgia) cancelled due to made for TV games by ESPN. So we tried. Basically, we're stuck in purgatory this year as we await a schedule next year that includes Florida State, Miami, ND and VA Tech. Rutgers is a quality team, not a top 10 team but quality. And we won by 14 points when our offense had an off night. Louisville proved itself last year in the Sugar Bowl and we'll have to do it again in the BCS bowl this year. It's too bad that this can't be settled on the field, so we'll never really know who the best team is. We're just left with dumb analysis like yours. 

JeffBockert
JeffBockert

@Brien @Blinker  I would agree that the win against Florida was big. I personally think Florida and Georgia are over rated ever year, as is South Carolina this year. But, no doubt, Florida has athletes. I wish we had a real playoff. 

Blinker
Blinker

Not trying to get under your skin, but one loss and your done.  Can't say that about to many teams from real conferences.  Thanks for pointing out my "dumb analysis"  Too bad most sport writers see things my way.Sorry man.  Have a great weekend!!!!