The Louisville Cardinals did what they needed to do win Friday night as they knocked off the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for their first Big East win of the 2011 season.
The win was huge for the Cards, but a second quarter injury to senior CB Anthony Conner put a damper on things. Conner’s playing career came to an abrupt end as he suffered a broken neck making a tackle on Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu.
The Cards responded to the injury to beat the Scarlet Knights and put themselves right back in the mix in the Big East.
The Cardinals defense picked off Rutgers QB Gary Nova three times, two of those interceptions coming on the first two Rutgers possessions of the game. The first led to a missed field goal and the second resulted in seven points for the Cards. Any time the defense can come up with three turnovers you have to like your chances of winning.
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Defensive struggles have not been the reason the Cards have lost a number of winnable games so far this season. What the Cards had not been able to do during their three game losing streak was run the football.
Friday night they found a way to move it on the ground. Jeremy Wright ran the ball for 108 yards on just 11 carries and Dominique Brown and Victor Anderson pitched in with 44 and 34 yards on the ground respectively.
QB Teddy Bridgewater did not have his best game in the box score, but came up with some big plays in the air. The running game no doubt had something to do with Bridgewater’s ability to find open receivers.
In the third quarter Bridgewater completed a beautiful pass to Michaelee Harris in the end zone to give the Cards a 16-7 lead.
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The defense did the rest. They were able to bend but not break, giving up a fourth quarter touchdown, but intercepting Nova inside the last two minutes to secure the win.
The Cards offense has had struggles all year and a lot of those struggles have been due to inconsistent play on the offensive line. The O-line stepped up Friday and played one of their best games this year as a unit. The penalties were still there for the Cards, but Bridgewater was not sacked once during the game and the Cards were able to pick up 5.5 yards per rush en route to victory.
The victory Friday was not a polished effort by any stretch. At times the game was very ugly, but a win against Rutgers is a huge win no matter how it looks.
Some of the key plays on offense did not lead to points, but are signs that the Cards are starting to put things together. Bridgewater’s pass to Andrell Smith on 2nd and 20 in the fourth quarter was good for a 30 yard gain and kept the offense on the field with a lead for another series. Later in the fourth quarter Bridgewater picked up another huge first down finding Josh Chichester over the middle for an 11-yard pick up on 3rd and 3. While neither of these drives resulted in points they showed the offense’s ability to pick up needed first downs.
If the Cards are going to continue to win games in the Big East this year they are going to need to find a balanced offensive rhythm. The running game was there for them Friday night and if they can continue to pound the football on the ground and pick up big first downs in the air they should be able to win some games in conference.
This win against Rutgers could prove to be season changing for the Cards if they are able to find the same offensive balance next week when Syracuse comes to town.
Next Saturday at noon the Cards and Orange will square off in a battle of 1-1 records in Big East play. If the Cards can win next week they will find themselves very much in the hunt heading into November. Follow StraitCards this week for football updates and a preview of next Saturday’s matchup.