When Rutgers plays Louisville in Thursday night's highly anticipated showdown before a nationally televised audience, the Scarlet Knights could clinch a Big East title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series for the first time in school history.
It could be hard to replicate the dramatic scene that ensued in the moments after Rutgers' upset over the then third-ranked Cardinals in 2006. A game-winning 28-yard field goal by K Jeremy Ito lifted No. 15 Rutgers to a 28-25 victory -- its first against a team ranked in the top 3.
Moments later, a swarm of Scarlet Knights' fans rushed the field before the game's final play, creating an enormous sea of red. The frenzied celebration was delayed for several fleeting moments before the joyous students returned.
“Man, that was an awesome view,” said Rutgers DB Jason McCourty, who's now with the Tennessee Titans. “We handed out white towels prior to the game. I remember being on the field, looking up and it really was crazy. That was a great night.”
Trailing 25-7 with 6:34 left in the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights' defense shut out the Cardinals the rest of the game. At that point, Louisville QB Brian Brohm had passed for 115 yards and a touchdown. After the score, Brohm went 7 of 15 for 48 yards.
“We made plays, Coach (Greg) Schiano started to dial up a little bit and we continued to blitz throughout the second half,” McCourty said. “I know that the second half we came out firing on them.”
Behind the stellar running of Ray Rice, the Scarlet Knights slowly cut into the margin. Less than two minutes after Arthur Carmody gave the Cardinals' the 18-point lead, Rice scored on an 18-yard run to get Rutgers back in the game by halftime.
“That was one thing about us that year, we continued to believe,” McCourty said. “What we were saying at that point was chop -- we just continued to chop whether we were going to win or lose we just stayed in the moment and worked our butts off.”
Late in the third quarter an outstretched Kenny Britt caught a Mike Teel pass across the middle and broke loose for a 67-yard gain. Former Louisville DB William Gay jarred the ball loose from behind, but Britt recovered it at the 5. One play later, the Ravens' All-Pro running back scored his second touchdown.
“Our running back got stronger throughout the game, not only in that game but in every game that year,” McCourty added. “He was just a beast.”
A season earlier, Rutgers struggled to contain Brohm in a 56-5 loss in Louisville. Brohm threw for 336 yards and scored four touchdowns in the rout. Even without injured RB Michael Bush, the Cardinals produced 500 yards of total offense.
“They were totally different years,” McCourty said. “I know he (Coach Schiano) was fired up in the locker room after that game. He gave us a little piece of his mind. When you get whooped like that you want to come back and make a statement.”
Although Rutgers has a 7-4 advantage in the rivalry, Louisville has won the past two meetings. The Scarlet Knights shut out the Cardinals 34-0 in 1976 and held Louisville scoreless 10 years later in a 41-0 victory. Though Louisville's 51-point win is the largest margin in series history, the Cardinals fell to the Scarlet Knights 63-14 in 2008. A Rutgers' Football T-shirt hung from McCourty's locker on Thursday afternoon.
McCourty has a friendly wager with Titans OT Byron Stingily, a former Louisville offensive lineman.
“There's none that I can discuss, but come tomorrow he'll be taking a picture with a Rutgers shirt on,” McCourty said.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.