Louisville beat an over matched FIU team so badly last year that there were allegations that Ron Turner asked and was granted a running clock in the second half. This year his season started off on a poor note with a two point loss to Bethune Cookman. He was able to get a little momentum going with a win against Wagner College and a really strong showing in the first half against Pitt last week.
Ron Turner still hasn't decided on a full time starter at quarterback but I fully expect true freshman Alex McGough to finally be that guy after his performance last week. Turner never seemed to really trust E.J. Hilliard to run his offense and just like last season, he was given a very short leash. McGough has played well at times and has shown the ability to get the ball down the field as well as make a few plays with his legs. The biggest concern for true freshmen quarterbacks is always how comfortable they are when they are pressured. McGough seems to handle that well even though he has taken a few too many sacks. He hasn't thrown an interception yet and has completed a handful of nice passes down the field. How he handles Louisville's interior blitzes will be a big factor in the game.
Turner dismissed a lot of players last season and made it known pretty quickly that he preferred guys he recruited over some of the players he inherited. That is showing to be the case in a good way with running back Alex Gardner. Gardner has become the feature back as a true freshman and he has played very well since taking over. He is a smaller back with a very good initial burst. I can't speak to his top end speed, but if he can get FIU in some third and manageable downs it would go a long way.
FIU's receivers have looked improved this year also. They like to line up with two tight ends with two wide receivers. Tight end Jonnu Smith is their leading receiver with 18 catches on the season. There have been multiple guys that have been able to make a big play or two and it has really helped the offense. The issue last season is that there was no real attempt to make plays because they were so over matched. That won't be the case this season with more depth and a few younger players that could step in and play. Something to look out for will be 6-4 receiver Dominique Rhymes if he matches up against Andrew Johnson.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Alex McGough, RB Alex Gardner, TE Jonnu Smith, WR T.J. Lowder
Giving up 72 points would be pretty hard to top and I don't think Louisville will have it as easy as it did last year. FIU has almost a completely new defense and they have transformed so far this year. Defensive ends Mike Wakefield and Denzell Perine have combined for 9 TFLs and 6.5 sacks this year with the rest of the defense adding some impressive numbers also. With the line doing such a great job getting pressure, the defense has been able to put their corners in press coverage and it has worked well to disrupt timing on third downs. With Louisville's offensive line issues Wakefield and Perine could both have a big day.
FIU's back seven have looked pretty good this year. The coverage has been good with Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon doing a very good job of locking down receivers. Tyler Boyd is arguably the best receiver in the ACC and he was held to 50 yards last week. The defense hasn't done well at all against the run but if they can get Louisville in obvious passing situations they have to feel good about their chances to put pressure on Will Gardner as well as not feeling too threatened by Louisville's deep threats.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Mike Wakefield, DE Denzell Perine, FS Justin Halley, SS Demarkus Perkins, CB Richard Leonard
- FIU'S offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler looks like a math teacher.
- Free safety Justin Halley is also a male model.
- The vast majority of FIU's roster are freshmen or sophomores.
- FIU finished last year's game with 27 total yards, zero rushing yards, 4 complete passes, 2 first downs, 1 third down conversion, 17 TFLs given up, 4 sacks given up, and 355 yards punting.