SERIES HISTORY

This will be the 4th meeting (all consecutive) between FIU and Louisville, with the Cardinals holding a 2-1 series advantage.  The Panthers won the 1st match-up in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium with some huge plays from T.Y. Hilton that helped propel FIU to victory and stun the shocked PJCS crowd. In 2012, the Cards traveled to Miami and won a hard fought victory to even the series, before 2013’s lopsided 72-0 victory back in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Game Week Podcast 

Last Trip To FIU

WATER.  EVERYWHERE.

I made the trip to Miami two years ago  for the FIU vs. Louisville game.   The experience was EXTREMELY interesting.  It was a revenge game for Louisville after the T.Y Hilton burnfest,  FIU also had SOLD OUT the game & many Louisville Cardinals were/are from the Miami area.

It rained intermittently throughout the day on South Beach…..but at FIU’s campus the skies were falling.  When I arrived the campus was virtually inaccessible.  Parking & Campus Security directed me towards the area to park, when I nearly drove into a 4-foot deep puddle.  The van in front of me did not stop short and showcased the actual depth of this massive water trap.   Unfortunately that van stayed in the ‘puddle’ until after the game.

The area the entire stadium (literally the entire stadium) was surrounded by an 18-inch deep (or more) moat.  Carrying 2 cameras and a computer I removed my shoes, rolled up my pant legs (along with Jody Demling, Pat Doney, & Eric Crawford) and navigated the waterway to enter the stadium.  (The things I do for you guys….).

So I rode up the elevator to the “Press Box” with my shoes in my hands, pant legs rolled above my knees, and bags over my shoulders. PRO.  At that point I could have passed for a Weather Channel reporter.   The “Press Box” actually doesn’t exist at FIU.  Instead it was a very cluttered box that big-donors typically would obtain for games, and it was ‘converted’ into a Press Area.  This “Press Box” only sat about 12 people.  The rest of us sat outside under various tents (it was still lightning & raining when we arrived).  It was almost as if Florida International built their stadium and forgot that maybe it would be a good idea to have the press cover their events.

The expected sellout crowd decided to stay home & dry and missed a very good game.  And that’s the thing about Louisville vs. Florida International……everyone always expects for Louisville to win BIG against the Panthers, and last year that was certainly the case.  But in 2011, TY Hilton & the Panthers SHOCKED the Cards in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium 24-17.  Then last year, the Cards benefited from a late roughing the punter penalty to seal the victory 28-21.

Stat Comparison 

  Louisville Florida International
Scoring Offense (ppg) 39.3 (38th) 23.7 (95th)
Total Offense (ypg) 407.0 (77th) 285.3 (120th)
Passing Offense (ypg) 229.0 (75th) 202.7 (98th)
Rushing Offense (ypg) 178.0 (57th) 82.67 (117th)
Scoring Defense (ppg) 19.0 (31st) 19.7 (37th)
Total Defense (ypg) 273.7 (12th) 291.0 (16th)
Passing Defense (ypg) 198.7 (36th) 123.3 (7th)
Rushing Defense (ypg) 75.00 (8th) 167.67 (77th)
Punt Returns (ypr) 5.13 (95th) 17.85 (15th)
Kickoff Returns (ypr) 26.5 (12th) 39.00 (3rd)
Opponent Punt Returns (ypr) 8.25 (75th) -1.5 (3rd)
Opponent Kickoff Returns (ypr) 23.27 (101st) 19.14 (52nd)
Punting (ypp) 40.8 (77th) 35.10 (125th)
Field Goal % 100% (1st) 71.4% (64th)
Opponent Field Goal % 100% 88th) 100% (88th)
First Downs (per game) 23.0 (65th) 16.0 (118th)
Opponent First Downs (per game) 13.0 (6th) 13.7 (8th)
Penalties (ypg) 42.0 (33rd) 61.7 (87th)
Turnover Margin (season) +1 (42nd) +5 (5th)
Time of Possession 34:29.00 (7th) 27:16.33 (110th)
Sacks (per game) 2.00 (63rd) 3.67 (11th)
Sacks Allowed (per game) 2.67 (101st) 4.00 (121st)
Tackles for Loss (per game) 5.67 (63rd) 6.33 (49th)
Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game) 6.33 (87th) 7.67 (120th)
Interceptions (season) 5 (6th) 3 (34th)
Passes Defended (per game) 6.33 (12th) 3.67 (85th)
Fumbles Recovered (season) 2 (40th) 6 (3rd)
Fumbles Forced (season) 1 (84th) 4 (14th)
Fumbles Lost (season) 4 (110th) 4 (110th)
Kicks/Punts Blocked (season)
3rd Down Conversions (%) 45.83% (48th) 22.22% (127th)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (%) 25.58% (10th) 29.27% (23rd)
4th Down Conversions (%) 87.5% (19th) 42.86% (81st)
Opponent 4th Down Conversions (%) 25.00% (20th) 66.67% (86th)
Red Zone Conversions (%) 100% (1st) 81.82% (72nd)
Opponent Red Zone Conversions (%) 72.73% (34th) 60.00% (10th)
RedZone TD Conversions (%) 93.75% (3rd) 45.45% (104th)
Opponent Red Zone TD Conversions (%) 45.45% (32nd) 40.00% (25th)
Kickoffs (ypk) 62.24 (55th) 57.41% (114th)
Plays 229 (31st) 201 (76th)
Yards Per Play 5.33 (85th) 4.26 (119th)

Louisville Offense vs. FlU Defense 

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.

Louisville Defense vs. FIU Offense 

Louisville’s defense has played superbly in 2014 picking up where it left off in 2013.  The Cards are big upfront, fast at linebacker, and have had very few coverage breakdowns in the secondary.  In fact, the secondary has been a big part of Louisville creating 7 turnovers on the season.

Despite playing Wagner and Bethune-Cookman Florida International’s offense hasn’t looked very good and has piled up just 285.3 yards per game (120th) in 3 games.  Last season the Louisville defense allowed just 27 yards of total offense for the game and while the Cards are averaging 22 yards worse per game on defense from a year ago, UofL is still pacing to be the #3 Defense in the country if they keep the same pace.

FIU uses two Quarterbacks E.J. Hilliard (6-3, 205, Jr.) & Alex McGough (6-3, 215, Fr.).  Hilliard should be familiar to Louisville fans as he has played in the last two contests. But right now Hilliard is true Freshman McGough’s back-up and brought in as a change of pace.  McGough hasn’t set the world on fire and has completed just 49.3% of his 75 attempts but has yet to throw an Interception.  401 yards, 5 Touchdowns, and 6 sacks in just 3 games. Hilliard got extensive work vs. Wagner and completed 14 of 16 passes for 169 yards and was sacked three times.  Neither FIU has thrown an INT thus far in 2014, and Hilliard is a much more capable runner than McGough.

The main target is Tight End Jonnu Smith (6-3, 230, Soph.) who was named Pre-Season 1st Team All-CUSA and on CFPA Tight End Trophy Watch List after his All-CUSA Freshman.  Jonnu has lead FIU in receptions in 10 of 15 career games and has 18 catches for 209 yards and 2 Touchdowns so far.  Against Pitt Smith had 7 grabs for 62 yards and a TD. The Tight End is the primary aerial weapon by far for the Panthers.

With just 6 catches a piece Wide Receivers Dominique Rhymes (6-4, 216, Jr.) & T.J. Lowder (5-11, 185, Jr.) are the next most used receivers in the passing game.  2 catches per game each for these two is hardly worth spending much more internet ink on.  Just 1 TD between these two.

Running Back Alex Gardner (5-9, 192, Fr.) is FIU’s main back and has 39 carries for 228 yards on the season.  Gardner tallied 138 yards vs. Wagner, and just 44 vs. Pitt.  His primary back-up  is Lamarq Caldwell (6-0, 222, Jr.)who has just 15 carries for 37 yards………..

FIU’s offense hasn’t been great, and that is really due to the pressure that the offensive line is allowing.  FIU allows 4 sacks per game (121st) and 7.67 (120th) Tackles for Loss per game.  Even if the Panthers had been playing top competition these numbers would be bad….maybe more understandable.  But Wagner & Bethune-Cookman should pad your stats, so I’m wondering just how bad this FIU offense is.  Still Left Guard Jordan Budwig (6-4, 324, Soph)was named Pre-Season 3rd Team All-CUSA, and Center Donald Senat (6-3, 293, Sr.) is on the Rimington Trophy Watch List.

Cornerback Richard Leonard is a major weapon in the return game both on kickoff and punts and actually leads the Panthers in All-Purpose Yardage despite playing defense.

Will Louisville shutout Florida International again?  Maybe.  Will the Cards hold FIU under 30 yards again?  Unlikely.  But this is a good tune-up and an opportunity to potentially play a bunch of players.  Louisville should dominate this game on the defensive side of the football, this isn’t a good offensive team.

Game Prediction

Louisville needs more than just a win here.  The Cards need to find answers on offense AND FAST.  Coming off a conference loss puts the Cards behind the 8-ball and with no room for error within the Atlantic Division.  Florida International will test the Louisville offensive line & special teams, and that’s exactly where Louisville needs to find answers.  FIU doesn’t present much of a challenge to the Louisville Defense so if the Cards shutdown the Richard Leonard in the return game & the Cards don’t turn the ball over Louisville should win this game easily while hopefully finding answers.

I’m calling for another shutout against FIU.  I don’t think the Panthers will be able to move the ball and I think the focus and changes that Louisville has made in practice are really going to be huge in this game and moving forward.  But we’ll see.  Will Gardner should go the distance unless things get really out of hand, but the sophomore needs the live reps.  The Cards get their act together and give reason for optimism in this one.  Louisville 45, FIU 0.  

Attending, Listening, Watching

Saturday’s game will be held at Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium (20,000) at 3:30.   Plenty of tickets are available for $27 here.

Over the radio waves in Louisville the game will be broadcast on the Learfield Sports Network (790 AM on Saturday) with Paul Rogers, Craig Swabek, and Doug Ormay.  In Miami, the radio broadcast will be on 1210 AM with Mike Levine and Pete Pelegrin,

Sirius Channel 126, XM Channel 205.

On television the game will be broadcast on FoxSports 1 with Craig Bolerjack & Ryan Nece.

Pre-Game Interviews

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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