FIU concludes non-conference play Saturday with a familiar non-conference opponent. The Louisville Cardinals arrive at FIU Stadium to wrap up a four-game series with the Panthers. Once again FIU will be tested by a more experienced team from the ACC like Pittsburgh did last week.
The main differences between Louisville and Pitt is that the Cardinals are a faster and more athletic team due to the large number of recruits they signed from the South Florida area. Louisville has 19 players from the South Florida area. The Cardinals probably have a size edge on the Panthers but FIU should measure up when it comes to speed and athleticism.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me along with former FIU linebacker James Knapp in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 3 p.m. for the pregame show. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
FIU is again a heavy underdog Saturday. Here's how the Panthers can upset the Cardinals.
DEFENSE TAKE 5: The FIU offense has to be able to give its defense a break on the sidelines. Last week Pitt won the time of possession battle with FIU 36 minutes to 24 minutes. That's almost one whole quarter more for the FIU D on the field. That does not help a defense especially during a 12 p.m., 90+ degree day in the Miami sun. Part of being able to sustain drives is the ability to run the ball which FIU has struggled with in the early going. If that remains Saturday then maybe the Panthers use the passing game to set up the run. Either way FIU needs more time-consuming drives.
MOW DOWN THE GARDNER: Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is in his first season as the starter after Teddy Bridgewater was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Last week Virginia was able to harass Gardner into mistakes due to a Cardinals offensive line that is apparently a work in progress. FIU's defensive front has been able to get a good rush in its first three games. The Panthers linebackers have also gotten into the act with their speed. FIU has the quickness and athleticism defensively to make it a tough day for Gardner and set up the FIU offense with good field position.
STOP THE RUNNING TRAINS: With the stadium built on the old grounds of a train yard, a train whistle blows at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium each time Louisville scores. Louisville is not home Saturday, but FIU still has to stop some Cardinal trains. If FIU can derail the Cardinals passing game, then the Panthers will have to stop the dual running back threat of big Dominique Brown (6-2, 241 pounds) and former Auburn and national championship game MVP Michael Dyer (5-9, 212). Like Pitt's James Conner (245 pounds) last week, Brown is a load to bring down and if the FIU defense is on the field for a long time again that could be a chore.
START FAST AND FINISH STRONG: FIU startled Pitt with its 16-0 fast start last week. For the Panthers to end the Louisville series in a split 2-2, they will need a similar sparkling start on Saturday, especially with the expected bad weather. As of this writing the game time forecast Saturday calls for thunderstorms with a 60 percent chance of rain. That kind of inclement weather will make it tough to hold on to the football, run on the FIU Stadium FieldTurf and for a comeback. The finish part of this section will require the FIU offense to sustain drives and play keep away from what could be a dangerous Louisville offense. As usual special teams will have a major say in the outcome. FIU needs much better punting than last week and deep kickoffs to deny Louisville's speedsters from any long returns. Last week Pitt kicked away from Richard Leonard. The Panthers would not mind Leonard getting some chances at returns this week.