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November 9, 2006
Game of the Week: Louisville at Rutgers
"Other things being equal, If the RU DL gets off the line quick and the RU blitz attempts force Brohm to have to throw early before he has a real chance to find guys RU has a great chance to pull off a win. If they hold our line off long enough for him to find his guys we have major problems."
-- RU_77 on the Rutgers Football message board on ScarletNation.com.
About every 137 years or so – like clockwork – Rutgers plays a football game of national significance.
Undefeated and ranked 15th, the Scarlet Knights (8-0) will make a rare appearance on the national stage when they face No. 3 and undefeated Louisville (8-0) tonight in a game which many have proclaimed the most important in the New Jersey school's history.
That's an exaggeration, of course. The most important game was played on Nov. 6, 1869 when Rutgers faced Princeton at New Brunswick, N.J., in the first ever college football game.
Since then, Rutgers football has done little if anything to pique national – or even local – interest. But if not for that game in 1869, college football might not have taken off and this week thousands of Rutgers students wouldn't have been standing in ticket lines so long one would might think Springsteen had booked a concert in Piscataway.
The game is so important it could ultimately determine the Big East championship and a shot at the national crown.
Well, that's what is within reach of Louisville, which is ranked third in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings. Rutgers would have to stretch a little farther, but that's the way it is for a program that never before has been ranked when facing a ranked opponent.
Rutgers hasn't defeated a ranked opponent in 18 years - when the Scarlet Knights shocked No. 15 Penn State, 21-16.
In contrast, Louisville hasn't defeated a ranked opponent in seven days. The Cardinals toppled then-No. 3 West Virginia for an emotional victory that anointed them legitimate national championship contenders.
That leaves Rutgers and Louisville facing polar opposite questions as the fervor for their nationally televised game grows.
Can the Scarlet Knights avoid getting too psyched up? Can the Cardinals maintain the intensity level they needed a week ago?
"I think there's definitely a danger of (getting too excited)," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "If you have to deal with it this week then it's hard to fix, but the way we approach things around here … it doesn't matter who you play. When you start getting concerned about the opponent and start changing the way you do things then you have a problem.
"Now, we're not naïve to the fact that our opponent is the best we've faced this year, but we need to stay focused on what we're doing because you can't control what they're doing."
Louisville was in control of its big victory over West Virginia after Malik Jackson returned a fumble for a touchdown and Trent Guy returned a punt for a score that provided a 30-14 lead in the third quarter.
By then, discussion had already begun as to whether Louisville deserved to play for the national championship more than a one-loss team like Florida, Auburn, Texas, California, USC or Notre Dame.
"We can't pay attention to all that stuff," said Louisville junior quarterback Brian Brohm, who passed for 354 yards against West Virginia. "All that talk doesn't matter until the season is over. I don't think we need any extra motivation. The opponent ahead of us is plenty of motivation for our team.
"The West Virginia game gave us a lot of confidence, but we need to stay focused on Rutgers. It would be huge if we can finish this off the right way."
Of course, the right finish starts with beating Rutgers, and the first step in doing that would be slowing the Knights' running game. Rutgers has produced an average of 193.3 rushing yards per game behind running backs Ray Rice and Brian Leonard.
"We need to try to force Rutgers to throw the ball," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "We've got to get ahead of them and make them throw."
That seems to be a sound strategy. Rutgers' passing offense ranks 114th nationally, and quarterback Mike Teel has more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six). His best performance netted 215 yards and three touchdowns against Navy. He has thrown for no more than 145 yards and one touchdown in any other game.
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"We're going into the ninth game of the year, so it's about that time (for a big passing game)," Teel said. "But we just want to go and play and find a way to win, however that is."
That would be playing keep-away from Brohm, who Schiano said is the best quarterback he's faced in his six seasons as Rutgers' coach.
"I think our running game as a whole is important. It's a way to control the football," Schiano said. "It's a way to play what we think is New Jersey and Big East style football. Hold the ball, run it, throw when you have to."
Perhaps that will work, but the Scarlet Knights will likely need some luck, too, because they have to overcome a discouraging trend as well as Brohm.
Rutgers is 0-6 all-time against top 10 teams.
But history may actually be on the Knights' side.
Rutgers is undefeated in games of national significance, having beaten Princeton 6-4 back in 1869.