Louisville vs. Florida International
Who: No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (3-0) vs. Florida International Golden Panthers (0-3)
When: Saturday at noon
Where: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
About the series
Series record: Tied 1-1 - Last meeting: 2012, 28-21 (Louisville)
About each team
**- Fresh off of a 27-13 win over rival Kentucky last weekend, the No. 7 Cardinals welcome Florida International to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with a perfect 3-0 record on the season. The record has been earned in dominating fashion- their wins over Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, and Kentucky have been by an average of 31 points.
**- Florida International is 0-3 on the season, with their latest defeat being a 34-13 home loss to FCS member Bethune-Cookman. In their first three games of 2013, the Panthers have managed to score a total of just 23 points, while allowing their opponents (Maryland, Central Florida, and Bethune-Cookman) to pile on 115. The Panthers rank near the bottom of the FBS in nearly every statistical category- including points per game, where they rank dead last with an average of 7.7.
**- Following the team's win over Kentucky, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong now holds a 28-14 career record at U of L. Strong has his Cardinals firing on all cylinders once again, as they shoot for a second consecutive trip to a BCS bowl game.
** - Florida International is coached by Ron Turner, who is in his first season as head coach for the Panthers. Turner was hired in January following the firing of Mario Cristobal. Turner has over 30 years of coaching experience, including 12 years as an assistant with a handful of NFL teams. Turner was the head coach at Illinois from 1997 until 2004. His greatest success came in 2001, when he and the Illini won the Big Ten Conference. Turner has a 42-64 record as a head coach.
Inside the numbers
42 - The amount of points by which Louisville is favored over Florida International entering Saturday's meeting.
12 - Dating back to the start of last season, FIU has lost 12 of its last 15 games. The team went 3-9 last season. Their latest win came in November of last season, when they beat Florida Atlantic 34-24.
108 - Spots that Louisville ranks ahead of FIU in passing yardage per game. The Cardinals rank ninth in the nation with a 354.3 average, while the Panthers' average of 126 places the 117th nationally.
120 - Amount of players between the two teams from the state of Florida. FIU has 83 Floridians on its official roster while the Cardinals have 37. A combined 10 players hail from Miami Northwestern High School- the alma mater of Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers, and several other Cardinals.
2005 - The year that FIU joined the FBS. Prior to joining the Sun Belt Conference (they now play in Conference USA), the Panthers spent their first three seasons of existence as an independent in the NCAA's Division I-AA (now known as the FCS).
9 - Consecutive games that Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker has caught at least one touchdown pass. The streak started last October against Cincinnati.
1,002 - Passing yards for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after three games. The amount places him third in the nation behind Oregon State's Sean Mannion (1,237) and California's Jared Goff (1,306).
0 - Third down conversions allowed by the Louisville defense against Kentucky last weekend. The Cardinals stopped the Wildcats on all 13 of their third down attempts. FIU went 3-12 on third downs against Bethune-Cookman.
169 - Receiving yards by FIU's T.J. Lowder. While that total leads the Panthers, it would place third on the Cardinals behind DeVante Parker (257) and Damian Copeland (211). Eli Rogers (160) and Kai De La Cruz (141) would be close behind.
What to watch for
After struggling to establish a rhythm in the running game in their first two outings, Louisville racked up 242 rushing yards against Kentucky. Despite the U of L coaching staff's insistence that they would focus on featuring just two backs, Saturday allowed the Cards‘ three main backs to discover their role. Perry, who carried 11 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns, proved to be a speedy runner with an ability to break long runs, while Dominique Brown (12 carries, 45 yards) established himself as a physical ballcarrier who can pick up yards between the tackles. Michael Dyer (11 carries, 62 yards) showed that he can provide the best of both worlds, and while he didn't break a long run against UK, he still has the potential to be the most dangerous player on the field. How Louisville will use the three going forward will be interesting to fans.
Three weeks into the season, special teams continues to be an area of concern for the Cardinals. After allowing 176 yards of kick return yardage to Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago, the Cardinals followed up by spotting Kentucky 134 yards on five returns. Against Bethune-Cookman, Panthers kick returners averaged 28.8 yards per return and even ripped off a long of 56.
Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines, who nabbed his first career interception last week, will get his first start at the position against FIU. Gaines, who converted to the position this offseason after spending time as a receiver, looks to finally be finding his footing as a full-time defender. A start against FIU will give Gaines an opportunity to get more comfortable before the Cardinals enter conference play.
As stated earlier, the game will feature 120 players from the state of Florida. Many of the players on each team were teammates in high school- including the two starting quarterbacks. E.J. Hilliard, who will start at quarterback for FIU in place of injured starter Jake Medlock, served as Teddy Bridgewater's backup at Miami Northwestern High School. How the relationships between the players will affect the game, if they will it all, will be seen on Saturday.
Keys to the game
--The area in which the Cardinals have consistently proven themselves most vulnerable is in kickoff coverage. FIU return man Sam Miller has busted a handful of big returns, which could prove itself an issue for the Cards. The Louisville defense has held up their end of the bargain, ranking 12 in total defense and fourth in average points against (9.0). It will be crucial for the Louisville special teams to keep FIU from having a short field to navigate.
--After a successful day running the ball last week, the matchup with FIU will provide the Cardinals another week to hone their rushing attack. Teddy Bridgewater will undoubtedly be called upon to win games for the Cardinals with his arm as the season goes on, but offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been insistent on the team finding a "thump" in the running game. Expect another week of major carries for Perry, Brown, and Dyer.
Louisville forced three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception) against Kentucky, but only scored six points off of them. Something the Cardinals will need to improve upon this week is capitalizing off of the opportunities created by their defense. Had the Cardinals been able to create touchdowns instead of the two field goals they settled for, the team leaves Lexington with a much more impressive 35-13 win.
FIU quarterback E.J. Hilliard saw a good deal of playing time when the Cardinals visited FIU Stadium, and he made the best of it. Hilliard threw 10 passes and was able to connect on nine of them for 82 yards and one score in the game last September. Hilliard is an accurate passer with the short to intermediate passes FIU's staff calls for him. Putting pressure on the quarterback will be key for the Cardinals in keeping the Panthers off of the field and off of the scoreboard.
The No. 7 Cardinals will enter the game against FIU favored by more than 40 points. Being so heavily favored could cause some enthusiasm issues amongst the players, but this is an issue already addressed by the U of L staff.
"We always try to guard against (a lack of excitement)," Shawn Watson said. "What we've always done here as a staff is we've never really worried about the opponent. What we've worried about is us and improving."
The Cardinals meeting with FIU will be their last tuneup before entering play within the American Athletic Conference. The game is slated for a noon kickoff.
Jody Demling - Lots of points and lots of faces in the game, Cards win 55-7.
Corey Goodlett - Something catastrophic would have to happen for Louisville to lose this game. Cards win, by a lot. 56-10.