It’s no secret that the Louisville offense struggled last week vs. Virginia. The Cards only managed 282 yards, struggled to gain field position, struggled to get first downs, struggled to complete passes, and gave up on running the ball. In the end, the Cards lost by just 2 points but the batted balls the constant pressure in the Louisville backfield made for a frustrating day for the Cardinal offense.
Like Virginia, Florida International is really good at creating turnovers. The Panthers created 4 turnovers against Pittsburgh and now have 9 on the season (#5 in the country). Pittsburgh didn’t struggle much to move the ball against FIU, but did fail to score due to timely turnovers and as a result Pittsburgh fell behind 16-0 and didn’t regain the lead until the 3rd quarter. Pitt doesn’t throw the ball much, and Florida International has yet to face a proficient passing offense. But the Cards wouldn’t classify as a “proficient” passing attack at all at this point.
FIU’s offense is ranked 16th in the nation after getting some padding while playing Bethune-Cookman (a game FIU lost) and Wagner. Pitt gained 414 yards and is the only comparable program to Louisville yet to play FIU thus far. Louisville’s offense is much different than Pitt’s, and we will see if the Cards can throw on the Panthers. Louisville should get more running room in this one.
Upfront Defensive Tackles Imarjaye Albury (6-0, 290, Soph), Lars Koht (6-5, 283, Jr.), and Darrian Dyson (6-4, 296, Jr.) rotate to plug the inside lanes. Against Pitt this group was mostly neutralized against the run and honestly there hasn’t been a ton of production from this group. Defensive Ends Denzell Perine (6-3, 245, R-Soph) and Michael Wakefield (6-3, 254, Jr.) on the other hand HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY productive. Combined the DEs have accounted for 22 tackles, 9 TFLs, and 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. That is big time production. It should also be noted that the duo has broken up 3 passes on the year as well.
Florida International’s Linebackers have been OK. Jordan Guest (6-4, 221, R-Fr), Luis Rosado (6-2, 231, Jr.), Treyvon Williams (5-11, 229, Soph), and Anthony Wint (6-0, 224, Fr.) may lack prototypical size, but they do have speed. With Perine and Wakefield causing much of the trouble in the backfield, the Panthers rely on this group to clean up much of the mess…..and Pitt ran for 303 yards. That is Pitt’s offense, but that’s too many yards on the ground against anybody.
Cornerbacks Richard Leonard (5-9, 189, R-Jr) and Jeremiah McKinnon (6-0, 184, Jr.) are FIU’s 3rd & 4th leading tacklers. Combining for 28 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 2 pass break-ups. Leonard has a 60-yard INT return for a TD and a forced fumble to his credit as well. A lot of these tackles have come off edge runs, so it will be interesting to see how well these two cover and also tackle in space when they are asked to focus on both. That’s the big difference in what Louisville does compared to the teams the Panthers have played thus far. Louisville attempts to play with balance in the passing and running game. And the Cards are really searching for answers on offense this week.
Demarkus Perkins (6-0, 219, Sr.) leads FIU in tackles from and is joined at Safety by Justin Halley (6-3, 207, Sr.). Halley is 6th in tackles and honestly other than impressive tackle totals these two are just OK safeties. They are big.
The real risk in FIU’s defense is in its pass rush and ability to create turnovers. PERFECT. Louisville just got dominated upfront and turned the ball over 4 times against Virginia. The Cardinals need a lot of work and playing FIU coming off the UVA game will allow the Cards to put added focus on these key areas, learn by fire, and have a dramatic increase in a probability of a victory.
In this game, I don’t foresee Petrino pulling any gimmicks. I think this will be straight up football and a full on tryout for who the Cards will go with for the rest of the season on offense. I’d expect that mixing & matching in practice this week on the offensive line is happening, and in the game we may see some of that as well. In the end, teams usually come together when they realize that their teammates are the only people that can help the situation…..when teams realize that things won’t get fixed on their own then they go to work, and I think that’s happened this week.
Also, fans should expect more of an emphasis on the running game to allow for a more successful play-action and movement game. Will Gardner will not have the pressure of looking over his shoulder on Saturday either as Reggie Bonnafon won’t make the trip (bereavement). Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee said after Tuesday’s practice that it was the best practice of the season. That’s a good sign of a positive attitude coming off a frustrating loss.
Florida International will keep Louisville honest in its ball security…and that’s a good thing. Louisville has 6 turnovers (91st in country) in 3 games this year. Protecting the football is a big time problem for the Cards and the more comfortable Will Gardner can become on the football field in understanding what his job is and recognizing what defenses are trying to do is going to go a long way for the young QB. I’d expect Will Gardner to go the distance against FIU unless things just get really out of hand, he needs experience and he needs to see a lot of different looks and pressures.
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