With the exception of about 15 minutes in their third game of the season - a 27-13 win at rival Kentucky - the University of Louisville has cruised through the first five games of the season. The 8th-ranked Cardinals have faced little challenge in racing to the school's second 5-0 start to the season.
The Cardinals domination of the early stages of the season was expected. Thursday nights home contest against conference rival Rutgers was circled as the game that would be the first real contest of the season and head coach Charlie Strong anticipates that to be the case.
"This team matches up with us," Strong said on Monday afternoon. "They're a lot like ourselves with their pressure package on defense and then offensively taking advantage of what defenses give to them and in the kicking game they lead the nation in kick off returns."
Strong has directed the Cardinals to victory in the last three meetings between the two programs, including a come-from-behind 20-17 last season to secure Louisville's BCS Bowl birth. The season prior the Cardinals claimed a 16-14 win.
"The three years that I've been here, each one has been a battle," said Strong.
Rutgers utilized big play opportunities to grab a 14-3 halftime lead a season ago. Scarlet Knight quarterback Gary Nova connected with Brandon Coleman on their first play from scrimmage for an 85-yard touchdown. On their first drive of the second quarter, Nova found another streaking receiver for a 68-yard touchdown pass.
"It's going to be one of those games where we can't give up big plays," Strong said. "From the start, it's going to be a good game and be a battle for us."
Louisville enters the game with the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, holding opponents to 6.8 points an outing. The Cardinals defense is third in the nation in total defense, allowing only 227 yards a game.
Rutgers boasts the nation's third-ranked rush defense and is third nationally in kickoff returns.
"This will be a good test, because you look at two teams that are evenly matched," Strong added. "Two teams that know a lot about one another."
Kickoff for Thursday nights ESPN broadcast is slated for 7:30p.m.