Game Day: Louisville vs. Florida International

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (1-0) vs. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS (1-0, 1-0)

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Game Time: 7:02 p.m.

Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Bob Wischuesen and Bob Davie

Favorite: Louisville by 3.5

All-Time Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: I SAID FIRST MEETING

Excitement Level (1-10): 8.2

"Anxiety Level" would probably be more appropriate here. A loss tonight on national television would be an enormous early blow to Louisville's 2011 season, and FIU is more than capable of making that happen.

Game Attire: New white U of L polo, black and white Cards hat

The grey shirt did it's done and what it was supposed to do by pulling out a victory last Thursday, but let's be real, that effort's not going to get the job done tonight. I got a pair of U of L polos as a congratulations gift last month and I feel like the time is now to unleash one of them on the world.

This is my UL polo public debut. Couldn't be more nervous about it.

Pre-Game Meal: Just had leftover Thai. No idea what the tailgate team is bringing. It better not have beans or I will throw a fit. 

Predicted Star of the Game: Hakeem Smith

Makes up for last week's semi-lackluster effort by making several key tackles and picking off an FIU pass at a key point in the game.

Bold Prediction: DeVante Parker leads the Cards in receiving again

And the freshman All-American hype begins.

Quick Look At Florida International

FIU is coming off the most successful season in program history, a season which saw the Golden Panthers capture the Sun Belt conference title and pull out a victory in the Little Caesar's Bowl. With 16 starters returning from that squad, expectations have been understandably high heading into year five of the Mario Cristobal era. 

The Golden Panthers are counting on a huge season from reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year T.Y. Hilton, who got to work from the get-go against North Texas. Hilton returned the opening kickoff 62 yards to set up the Panthers' first touchdown. He finished with a nation's-best 283 all-purpose yards, including a 60- yard touchdown catch. Hilton was later named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.

Senior running back Darriet Perry rushed for 93 yards and recorded his 22nd and 23rd career rushing touchdowns, while sophomore back Kedrick Rhodes added 77 yards rushing to complement the deep FIU backfield.

The offensive line lost two starters from a year ago but still has Rupert Bryan at right tackle, and better depth than the group that allowed only 20 sacks while the Golden Panthers rushed for 4.7 yards per carry.

The man who makes the FIU offense go is quarterback Wesley Carroll. The Fort Lauderdale native and Mississippi State transfer held his own against high-level competition early last year and then was accurate down the stretch, completing 80 percent of his passes during the final three regular-season games. That, after he cost FIU a game against Florida Atlantic in October by throwing three interceptions. He was crisp in the season-opener, hitting on 16-of-22 passes for 193 yards and a score.

The Panther defense was hyped as one of the Sun Belt's best heading into the season, and lived up to that billing in week one by not allowing a touchdown. The Mean Green scored twice on fumble returns and and recorded a safety to amass their 16 points. The Golden Panthers held North Texas running back Lance Dunbar, who finished sixth in the nation in rushing last season, to just 43 yards rushing and recorded three sacks and forced a fumble.

Linebacker Winston Frazier's led the way with 11 tackles, while defensive end Gregory Hickman emerged as a threat on the opposite side of FIU's all-conference end Tourek Williams, by registering two sacks and forcing a fumble. Starting senior safety Chuck Grace was ejected in the fourth quarter following an illegal hit against a North Texas receiver, and will be suspended for the first quarter of tonight's game.

As far as special teams are concerned, it’s a good thing the Panthers didn’t punt as much last season, because Duquesne transfer Josh Brisk had a net average of just 31 yards, and the coverage team allowed several big returns. Kicker Jack Griffin is back after a solid season, which included two field goals in the final 3:18 of FIU's 34–32 win over Toledo in the Little Caesar's Bowl.

Three Keys for Louisville

1. Control the ball with the run

Louisville's inability to dominate Murray State on the ground was probably the most disappointing aspect of last Thursday night's largely disappointing game. FIU is talented up front, but it's also one of the areas where they're the most inexperienced. The offensive line needs to do a better job of creating space for Vic Anderson and Jeremy Wright if the Cards are going to avoid the upset tonight.

2. Win the special teams battle

In a game like this, one or two big returns from T.Y. Hilton could absolutely be the difference between winning and losing. Not only do the Cards have to contain Hilton, but they need to make things happen in their own return game. Punt and kick coverage are two of the areas where FIU appears most vulnerable, and Wright, Anderson and Josh Bellamy have got to take advantage of that.

3. Not letting a small play become a big play

Strong and Bedford have both said they're not going to change their defensive philosophy just because an opponent has a big-play guy on their roster. That means we're still going to see plenty of blitzing and single-high coverage this evening. It also means that there's a significant amount of pressure on Louisville's corners and safeties to wrap up a guy like T.Y. Hilton in order to keep a tunnel screen from going 80 yards for a score. If Wesley Carroll is consistently beating you over the top, then so be it, you tip your hat and move on. Where Louisville can't afford to get beat is on the simple play that becomes a monster play because of poor tackling.

Notable

--The Big East is a combined 21-0 all-time against the Sun Belt.

--Louisville is off to a 1-0 start for the 8th time in the last 11 seasons. 

--Florida International is currently the only team in the Sun Belt with a victory.

--The Golden Panthers faced a pair of Big East teams last season, falling to Rutgers (19-14) and Pittsburgh (44-17).

--Louisville is 25-8 in non-conference games since joining the Big East. The corresponding .758 winning percentage ranks second among active league members.

--Florida International running back Darian Mallary is the older brother of Louisville freshman cornerback Andrew Johnson.

--Louisville owns a 34-24 all-time record against Sun Belt opponents. Obviously, all 24 losses came before the Cardinals were a member of the Big East. The Cardinals have not lost a game against a team in the Sun Belt since dropping a 40-7 decision to the University of Louisiana at Monroe on Nov. 7, 1981.

--Louisville has played a Sun Belt school in each of the past six seasons and has gone 6-0 over that stretch.

--Louisville has gone 17-0 against Sun Belt teams since 1981. Louisville has scored 721 points in their last 17 meetings with Sun Belt schools for an average of 42.4 per contest.

--University of Louisville defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt coached the defensive line at FIU in 2005.

--Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, wide receiver Michaelee Harris, running back Corvin Lamb, safety Jermaine Reve and wide receiver Eli Rogers attended Northwestern High School in Miami along with FIU linebacker Kenneth Dillard, wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, offensive guard Donald Senat, wide receiver Clinton Taylor and wide receiver Wayne Times.

--FIU's defensive coordinator held the same position at Connecticut a season ago, while their offensive coordinator held the same position at Appalachian State when the Mountaineers shocked No. 5 Michigan in 2007.

Quotable

--"We knew when it was announced, when we signed the contracts [for the home-and-home series], it was going to be a tremendous challenge. A tremendous opportunity for this university and this program."--FIU head coach Mario Cristobal

--"T.Y. is an outstanding football player. We're going to have to find a way to corral him. I don't know if we can cover him. We need to get enough guys around him so if he does catch it, we can get him on the ground."--Charlie Strong

--"(Hilton) plays quarterback, he plays running back, they have him all over the place. The biggest thing we've told our guys — know where he is at all times, especially on third down." --Vance Bedford

--"It’s a huge opportunity. Last week, it was the first time for us opening the season 1-0. That’s one accomplishment out of the way. It’s on to the next one. We still have the same mentality this week."--FIU linebacker Winston Fraser

--"They can't look ahead. We’re not good enough to look ahead. There has been no mention at all of Kentucky."--Strong

--"(On last week's win) It’s a message on how good we can be. [It] let’s everybody on the schedule know that FIU is back and we’re nothing to be messed with. You know how quickly we can put up points."--T.Y. Hilton

CC Prediction: Louisville 28, Florida International 24

Go Cards.

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