Charlie Strong's Cardinals won the statistical battle against the Panthers, but fell short because of costly mistakes. If Louisville hopes to snap Kentucky's four-game win-streak in the series, the Cardinals will have to quickly learn from the mistakes that cost them against FIU, namely eliminating big plays defensively, while establishing rhythm and a running game on offense.
Here is a closer look at two areas Strong's team will focus on this week during practice as they prepare to bounce back against the Wildcats:
Eliminate MistakesLouisville outgained FIU, had more first downs and owned time of possession. But the Panthers upset the Cardinals Friday night 24-17 because of three big plays – Will Stein's pick-six, and two long touchdown receptions by FIU wide receiver T.Y. Hilton - in the first half that put the Strong's troops in an early hole they weren't prepared to dig out. If Louisville hopes to beat Kentucky for the first time since 2006, the Cardinals must eliminate big plays that proved their undoing against FIU.
"We can't give up the big plays and we gave up two big plays," Strong said. "The first half we got into a hole and weren't able to bounce back. We cannot accept losing. But we get another week and this team has a lot of work to do.
"It's going to be one of those rollercoaster years because of the youth, and we understand that, and we're going into a tough situation at Commonwealth (Stadium) against UK. Right now, UK is a better team than us.
"It's so important that we learn from this game and the mistakes we made. We have to regroup and realize that each game is important. We can't accept losing. You go play for 60 minutes and always give yourself a chance."
Sophomore safety Hakeem Smith said Louisville will learn from their mistakes against FIU.
"We are going to take this loss and learn from it," Smith said. "It's just going to push us and make us work harder."
After giving up two big plays defensively in the first half that led to 14 quick points, Strong's defense re-grouped at halftime and allowed only a field goal in the second half.
"We kept fighting as a team and we never gave up," Smith said. "In the second half we were able to execute a little better. We accomplished our keys to the game and we executed like we did in the beginning of the game, and we should have done that the whole game. We were able to read their offense and make plays on the ball."
With a young offense still struggling to find its rhythm, senior linebacker Dexter Heyman said Louisville's defense has to lead the way against Kentucky.
"To beat Kentucky our defense has to outplay their defense," Heyman said. "We have to stop the big plays."
Establish Running AttackLouisville's offense moved the football against Florida International. The Cardinals gained 446 yards, mostly through the air, had 24 first downs, and committed just four penalties – a significant improvement after committing five false start infractions in the season-opener.
The problem: Louisville hasn't consistently cracked the end zone in the first two games.
The Cardinals scored just two touchdowns against FIU, though one score came in the final moments with FIU in prevent-mode. Mike Sanford's offense has struggled to find consistent rhythm through two games, largely because of an inability to establish a potent running game.
Louisville's problems in the running game stem from an offensive line that is playing without junior center Mario Benavides and has five first time starters, including freshmen guards Jake Smith and John Miller. Against FIU, the Cardinals averaged a paltry 2.2 yards per carry, primarily because the offensive line didn't create holes up front.
"We didn't move people and block people and that's two straight weeks that we haven't gotten the running game going," Strong said. "That's something we have to work on. We have to be able to run the football and be physical."
Despite being sacked six times, Will Stein thought Louisville's passing game showed signs of improvement against FIU. Stein, who threw an interception returned for touchdown, completed 30-of-43 passes for 336 yards and two scores. While top receiver Josh Bellamy recovers from a hamstring injury, freshmen wide outs DeVante Parker, Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers have shown promise early this season.
"I felt like we improved a lot on offense….we got more rhythm to ourselves and the passing game was pretty effective," Stein said. "We had a couple plays that really killed us. In the first half, the pick-six really hurt and in the end we lost by seven. It was just one play and we couldn't convert the fourth and one in the end zone. It was plays here and there that kept us from making this our game."