Instant Analysis: Louisville 20, Rutgers 17
Posted Nov 29, 2012

CFN Instant Analysis of Louisville's BCS-earning win over Rutgers

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

In 2006, Rutgers hosted Louisville on a Thursday night. Piscataway, N.J., became a town suffused with electricity. The Scarlet Knights rallied from a 25-7 second-quarter deficit to stun the Cardinals and register one of the greatest wins in the history of the very same program that gave birth to college football (along with Princeton) on a blessed day in 1869.

The catalyst for that Rutgers comeback in 2006 was Brian Leonard, a do-everything runner-blocker-receiver who did whatever coach Greg Schiano asked of him. Leonard led by inspiration, motivation and example, fueling a second-half surge that made Rutgers a name to be taken seriously in the college football community.

Six years later, here was Rutgers – standing on Leonard's shoulders – leading Louisville in Jersey on yet another Thursday night enlivened by a rare buzz, the kind of juice that transcends the normal gameday experience. Here was Rutgers – soon to move to the Big Ten, newly confident in its financial future, hopeful of better and bigger days… and just 30 minutes from a BCS bowl, leading Louisville by a 14-3 margin at halftime. The Scarlet Knights were finally going to hit the BCS jackpot. They were playing an opponent whose secondary couldn't tackle, whose regular No. 1 quarterback couldn't take direct snaps under center, and whose backup quarterback couldn't throw passes of more than six or seven yards. When a fake field goal appeared to give Rutgers a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter, the party was about to start.

And then, as was the case for the Chicago Cubs in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series… as was the case for the Northwestern men's basketball team last February… and as was the case for the Cleveland Browns in the final minutes of the 1986 AFC Championship Game, a long-suffering sports team watched everything fall apart.

An ineligible man downfield penalty wiped out the touchdown. Then came an ill-advised punt from the Louisville 31. Then came a 90-yard touchdown drive by the Cardinals, followed by a fumble on the kickoff return and a go-ahead Louisville touchdown 16 seconds later. In about 20 real-time minutes and just a handful of scoreboard-clock minutes, the word turned upside-down for Rutgers. Louisville bobbled a pass into an interception to give the Scarlet Knights a brief hope of a reprieve, but the Scarlet Knights' receivers could not finish plays when they smoked Cardinal corners and safeties. When RU's Tim Wright suffered his second dropped pass of the night, Louisville was able to turn it into an interception and an eventual go-ahead field goal with 1:41 left.

The Scarlet Knights – teased and tormented all night – gained one last chance to make everything right, one last opportunity to wash away decades of frustration and irrelevance and misery. Yet, quarterback Gary Nova made the wrong read and threw a pop-fly interception that sealed his team's stomach-punch loss with just over one minute left. The BCS promised land remains foreign territory for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are barred from entering it, hounded by the kind of hex that somehow sticks with a few supremely luckless teams over a very long period of time.

If that fact wasn't painful enough for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have to confront the exquisitely torturous irony found in this comeback by Louisville: The Cardinals flipped the script from 2006, producing the very comeback that burned them six years ago on the same field inside the same stadium.

Brian Leonard was the leader and hero for Rutgers on that Thursday in 2006. On this November night in 2012, it was Teddy Bridgewater who took his Louisville teammates on his back. Unable to display precise mechanics because of two separate injuries, Bridgewater – essentially playing with one arm and one leg – still managed to float some passes into tight windows while hitting just enough crossing routes in the final minutes of regulation. The blood-and-guts quality of Bridgewater's performance – a performance which was epic not for its technical merits but for the fullness of its competitive resourcefulness under daunting, high-pressure circumstances – will live forever in the annals of Louisville football history. It also lifted the ACC's newest future member to a possible date with this year's ACC champion in early January.

Brian Leonard, make room for Teddy Bridgewater. The history of Louisville-Rutgers November Thursdays in New Jersey just added one more unforgettable chapter.