Rutgers QB Gary Nova struggled in a 24-10 loss to Louisville. (Andy Lyons / October 11, 2013)
Rutgers hung around with the eighth-ranked Cardinals before falling, 24-10. Teddy Bridgewater threw for 310 yards, Senorise Perry had more than 100 yards rushing and Louisville had eight sacks and four interceptions in the win.
Here are some of my impressions from the game:
** Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took his team out of the game. We’ll start with the obvious: four interceptions. All but one of these throws were either poor decisions or poor throws. Twice Nova tried to fit passes into double- or triple-coverage over the middle of the field. On another pick he overthrew an open receiver badly to kill a drive. Only one pick – thrown to the sideline and snatched away by ball-hunting safety Calvin Pryor – could be somewhat excused… and even that was a less-than-ideal throw into that coverage.
Nova was throwing off his back foot, falling away from pressure almost the entire game.
"We saw on film that he was kind of scared every time he got pressured," defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin told Yahoo Sports. "We knew he wasn't a good in-pocket quarterback. He watched the rush instead of watching his receivers."
That was a major factor in the eight sacks. On several occasions, Nova did a poor job of eluding a rush, even when it was just one defensive player who penetrated the pocket. He made little to no effort to avoid taking the sack.
Credit to Louisville’s defense though, and by the way, the Cardinals were playing without four starters due to injury.
What this means for UCF: Blake Bortles is a better quarterback than Gary Nova. Simply put, that should make a difference next Friday. You don’t see Bortles falling away from the rush often. He’s a quarterback who is not afraid of taking hits – sometimes to his own detriment (see: rush vs. Memphis when he lowered his throwing shoulder into a tackler instead of just sliding down).
While Bortles will have the confidence to try to slip things into tight spaces, he does a much better job of reading coverages. The two Nova interceptions over the middle of the field came when Louisville showed blitz, tricking Nova into reading an open slant on that side of the field, only to drop a linebacker and safety back into coverage. I would be shocked if Bortles was not able to make those reads.
Louisville’s defense made the difference on Thursday night, but they certainly won’t have as easy of a time rattling the quarterback next week.
** Teddy Bridgewater looked somewhat human against the Scarlet Knights. He missed two wide open receivers on overthrows – both likely would have been touchdowns – and yet still finished 21 of 31 for 310 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Those stats are not too shabby.
Without his favorite target on the field, Bridgewater and Louisville seemed to struggle most when Rutgers brought pressure with heavy blitzes. That forced Bridgewater to make quicker decisions, and without his safety valve, DeVante Parker, he at times had to simply throw the ball away or dump it off.
Bridgewater was sacked just twice in the game, and the risk of sending those extra blitzers is isolating receivers one-on-one on the back end. If the blitz doesn’t get there, and that happened on a few occasions Thursday night, Bridgewater will burn you.
If Bridgwater’s “off day” is 21 of 31 for 300-plus, though, it shows you how on-point the Knights’ defense will have to be when they travel up to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium next week
What this means for UCF: The Knights have struggled getting to the passer this season, though they racked up five sacks against Memphis. You saw in that win the Knights used a variety of blitzes and stunts to free up pass rushers – Brandon Alexander’s sack springs to mind – but some also came when redshirt freshman QB Paxton Lynch held the ball too long.
UCF may try to bring some pressures to try to get Bridgewater to release the ball sooner. They simply can’t afford to have the nation’s top quarterback sitting in the pocket with plenty of time to find receivers. But if they do so, they have to get there. As well as the secondary has played so far this season, forcing Sean Maag and Jordan Ozerities into single coverage against Bridgewater too often is not an ideal situation.
Louisville looked to run the ball on early downs to slow that blitzing, and Rutgers did a fine job of slowing that down until Perry broke off a big run in the fourth quarter. If UCF can get to Bridgewater enough to force the Cardinals into that run-first approach in early downs, it would play more into the strengths of the defense.