Opponent: Florida International Panthers
Game Location: Miami, Florida
Conference: Sun Belt
Head Coach: Mario Cristobal
Game Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV / Radio: ESPN 3 and WHAS 84 Radio
Announcers: Drew Fellios, Rene Ingoglia / Paul Rogers, Doug Ormay
Spread: Louisville -13.5
Tomorrow night the University of Louisville football team will head down to Miami in an attempt to gain their first road victory of the season against Florida International. Of course, as we all well know, behind a monster outing from All-American receiver TY Hilton, the Panthers shocked the Cards 24-17 in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium one year ago. Hilton finished with 7 receptions for 201 yards and 2 huge touchdowns. On both of his long TD receptions, the UofL defense splintered and a linebacker was stuck covering Hilton in space. Basically, it was no contest. Some of these same problems plagued the Louisville defense in the second half of last week’s game against North Carolina as they looked confused at times and simple assignments were missed. Last night on his weekly radio show, head coach Charlie Strong spoke highly of the team’s focus in practice this week and reiterated the fact that they felt as though they had lost that game to UNC, despite scraping by with a 5 point victory. With payback on their mind, many players returning home to South Florida and potentially out to show the nation that they mean business, the Cards look to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2006.
FIU no longer can look to Hilton for big plays on the outside as he now plays on Sundays for the Indianapolis Colts. But QB Jake Medlock has still managed to put up numbers despite a shaky completion percentage. He’s averaging around 237 yards per game passing and has connected on 59-103 attempts (57.3%). He’s also taken care of the ball and avoided critical turnovers by throwing for 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. On the outside it’s been Wide Receiver Wayne Times who’s taken the reigns as the go-to-guy in the passing game. He’s snared 17 catches on the season for 182 yards, though he’s yet to get into the end zone for a score. The Panthers have also gotten a nice contribution in the receiving game from Running Back Kedrick Rhodes who has 2 touchdowns and 67 yards. Rhodes is also the Panthers leading rusher with 230 yards on 47 attempts. But for the second week in a row, it looks like the Cards have lucked out as the opposing team’s top weapon will likely not see any game action. Rhodes was held out of practice most of the week and is unlikely to play during tomorrow night’s contest. Cumulatively, the FIU offense has had success moving the ball and scoring on all three of their opponents so far. They’re averaging 29 points, 183 rushing yards and 237 passing yards per game. Not bad numbers, but defensively they’ve been a trainwreck. The Panthers are allowing their opponents to score an average of 39 points against them and they’ve had little success dictating the pace of the game. They’ve actually fared ok against the run where they’re allowing 129 yards per game. But it’s been the passing game that’s been their Achilles heel. With a non-existent pass rush (just 3 sacks) they’ve let their opponents repeatedly pick apart their already-suspect secondary. For Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater, this means they could be in for a banner evening.
Louisville’s offense comes into the game averaging 35.3 points per game and Bridgewater ranks among the nation’s most efficient passers (72-88 for 855 yards – 81.8%). Louisville’s offensive line has been outstanding this season and with time to survey the field, Bridgewater has dissected the opposition with surgical-like accuracy. Equally as daunting for their opponents, has been Louisville’s rushing attack. Spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry, the two have combined for 528 yards and 7 touchdowns. Both are capable of pounding the ball up the middle and running between the tackles, or bouncing it to the outside and breaking off a big run. Despite missing the first game of the season, speedy Charles Gaines leads the Cards in receiving yards with 151. Damian Copeland and Nate Nord are tied for team-high in catches with 10 apiece. Louisville will use a steady diet of receivers and spread the ball around in order to keep the opposition guessing. Defensively, the Cards have been a bit inconsistent. They showed last week that they can play lights-out for a half against a quality ACC opponent (allowing just 7 points in the 1st half) but then they looked equally as dismal in the second half as they got pummeled for 27 points. The talent is there, but the discipline is certainly not. Too many missed assignments and blown tackles have plagued this defense at times in all three of their games. They’ve also managed little-to-no pressure on the QB as they’ve tallied just 3 sacks and only 10 tackles-for-loss. Granted, some of that has to do with the fact that all three teams used a hurry-up, no huddle offense, but the numbers should still be better. Last year after the first three games Louisville had 9 sacks and 19 tackles-for-loss. However, the main question mark for this Louisville team remains their special teams. Inconsistent punt returns, fumbles on kickoff returns – the only bright spot, surprisingly enough, has been the kicking game where John Wallace and Matt Nakatani have combined to go 5-5 on the year. Something needs to change because right now the team poses no threat to their opponents in the return game.
In the end, we simply have to remember that this team is still incredibly young. There will certainly be growing pains along the way and mistakes will happen. Their immaturity got the best of them last week and they were lucky to escape with a win. If they can maintain focus and somehow gain that killer instinct as the season progresses, there’s literally no ceiling for how good they can be. I have no doubts that FIU will be able to score a few times on this Louisville defense. They’re still working on things and the mental-mistakes are sure to rear their collective ugly heads. But there’s just too much firepower on this UofL offense. FIU’s defense has done a solid swiss-cheese impersonation thus far in the young season, and that’s against the likes of Central Florida, Akron and Duke. The 19th ranked Cards will bring a relentless, punishing brand of football that should be way too much for the Panthers. Not to mention that they were embarrassed at home last year in the loss. This could finally be the game where Strong doesn’t take his foot off the gas and truly shows how dominate this team can be.
Prediction: Louisville 42 FIU 14