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October 7, 2013
Louisville coach Charlie Strong's No. 8-ranked Cardinals have rolled to a relatively easy 5-0 record, outscoring their first five foes by a total of 188 points. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 107-3 in the first half.
But Thursday night's duel against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights may not be such a walkover.
"This team matches up very with us," Strong said. "They are very similar to us... This is a good matchup of teams that know a lot about each other."
Last season, Louisville came from behind to beat Rutgers 20-17 in Piscataway, N.J. In 2011, Louisville scratched out a 16-14 win over Rutgers to stop a three-game slide.
"It's been a battle, and it always has been a battle against Rutgers," Strong said.
Despite being a 16.5 point underdog for Thursday's game, Rutgers will likely pose a challenge for the Cardinals. The Scarlet Knights are 4-1 on the season including a win over Arkansas. The Knights' passing defense has struggled, but their offense has scored 28 or more points in all five games including two 50-point games.
"You look at them offensively they have great balance between the run and the pass," Strong said. "... Nova is getting rid of the ball so he isn't taking the sacks."
Louisville comes into the game with two of the top sack artists in the American Conference, Lorenzo Mauldin and Marcus Smith.
Rutgers leads the league in rushing defense (70.6 ypg) and kickoff returns (32.5 yards per return). Two things - rushing offense and kick coverage - that have been struggles for Louisville at times this season.
"It's going to be one of those games where we can't afford to give up big plays," Strong said. "From the start it is going to be a battle for us. It's going to be about playing good, gap-sound defense."
The Knights are coming off one of the most-exciting games of the season thus far. Rutgers led SMU 35-14 in the fourth quarter, but gave up 21 unanswered points and went to overtime.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the first two overtime periods before the Knights held SMU to a field goal in the third overtime. Rutgers' Justin Goodwin ran for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Knights a 55-52 win.
LOUISVILLE THE BEST?
Strong made one point clear in Monday's pre-game press conference. He believes he is coaching the best team in the nation.
"I tell my team everyday that they're the best team in college football because I want them to realize that," Strong said. "It's not about the schedule."
The Cardinals have slipped from No. 6 to No. 8 in the national polls, despite not losing a game, but Strong says his team can't worry about that.
"It's all about us," Strong said. "We can't control what anyone else does or if we slip in the polls. Let's go play our best on game day."
He's looking forward to his team having a national ESPN audience on Thursday night.
"When you get a national TV game on a Thursday, it gives you a spotlight that you may not get on a Saturday," Strong said. "... Recruits get to see our program and see what we're all about. People watch those games, and they can judge for themselves who we are."
Strong said the training staff will evaluate injured starters DeVante Parker (WR) and Nacho Garcia (OL) to see if they can play Thursday night. Linebacker Keith Brown is also being evaluated, but he will likely not be available Thursday night.
Louisville didn't use either of its fullbacks Saturday at Temple, but both should be available Thursday night per Strong.
Strong continues to say that defensive tackles Jamaine Brooks and DeAngelo Brown are out with injuries. Both are former starters.