"We just didn't play smart," said U of L head coach Charlie Strong following the game. "We didn't execute at all tonight but we are happy to get out of here with a win."
The Cardinals entered the game against the Panthers as a double-digit favorite, yet late in the game had to struggle to hold on to their touchdown lead.
Despite an opening possession which Louisville converted into a 13 play, 70 yard touchdown drive, the Louisville offense would find it difficult to move the ball with much consistency on Saturday night in Miami.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw his first and second interceptions of the season. His 194 passing yards was his lowest total in four outings. 126 of those yards were accumulated during the first half of play, of which 105 came during the first and last possessions of the first frame. The sophomore entered the contest with a 82% completion rate, but was only able to connect on 53% of his 36 attempts against FIU.
Additionally, the offensive line and ground game rarely found a rhythm. U of L was limited to just 29 rushing yards in the first half and 129 for the game, it's lowest output of the year. Over half of the Cardinals ground total occurred on their two second half scoring drives, when Senorise Perry broke free for runs of 24, 16 and 18 yards.
"We just weren't able to get bodies on blockers in the first half, but in the second half, we were able to get the bodies on the blockers," said Strong. "It was all about toughness. They wanted the line of scrimmage in the first half, but in the second we were able to establish ourselves in the line of scrimmage."
Through three games, the Louisville offense averaged 25 first half points, but were only able to muster 14 points against an FIU team that entered the game ranked 108th in scoring defense. FIU also held Louisville under 400 yards of total offense, the first time U of L has failed to do so in 2012.
Like the offense, the Cardinals defense opened the game perfectly, by forcing the Panthers into a three-and-out. Using a balanced attack, the Panthers produced two long scoring drives in the first half, highlighted by 5 pass plays that went for 10 or more yards.
After refusing to allow an opponent to rush for over 100 yards or give up a rushing touchdown through three games, the Cardinals saw FIU cross the century-mark and run for two scores.
The rush defense is also responsible for one of the bigger plays of the game. With the Cardinals holding a 21-14 advantage midway through the third quarter, linebacker Preston Brown stopped Jeremiah Harden for no gain on fourth-and-inches at the U of L 10 yard line.
Holding a 28-14 lead in the fourth quarter, the defense came up with another big stop, when it forced FIU to turn the ball over on downs at U of L 21-yard line.
Senior cornerback Adrian Bushell had his best outing of the season, leading the team with 7 tackles, including one for a loss.
Two crucial plays occurred during special teams play, both at the expense of the host Panthers.
Forced to punt on it's opening drive of the second half, sophomore Jarel McGriff-Culver recovered a fumbled punt at the FIU 46-yard line, which resulted in a touchdown scoring drive for the Cardinals.
Clinging to 28-21 lead late in the game, the Cardinals were forced to punt and give the Panthers a final opportunity to tie or win the game. FIU's T.J. Louder was flagged for roughing the punter, giving U of L a first down and allowed the visitors to run out the game clock.
Again, Louisville wins, and again, questions surface about it's potential. Louisville was out-gained and was unable to score more than 30 points for the first time this season. The Cardinals also came up on the wrong side of the time of possession and turnover battles.
There were other outside factors, which contributed to the inconsistency. It rained heavily in Miami all day, making it difficult to throw. Many Cardinals were making homecomings, adding additional pressure. The coaching headsets weren't working, forcing the coordinators to the sidelines to make their calls. It was the first road game.
However, despite the potential list of excuses, the fact remains that Louisville continues to struggle with consistency for an entire game. At some point this Louisville squad will age, shed the youthful tag and begin putting together 60 minutes of proper execution.
But, a win, is a win. And a road win, is even better.
Louisville will travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi next week to face old rival Southern Mississippi on Saturday.