For the first time this season, 18th-ranked Louisville will play away from home as the Cardinals travel to Miami for a Saturday night matchup with FIU. The game, set for 7 p.m., ET on ESPN3 at WatchESPN.com, will be a rematch of last season’s first ever meeting between the two programs won by the Panthers, 24-17. U of L enters the game at 3-0 overall for the first time since the 2006 season, while FIU is 1-2 on the season but unbeaten in its only home game of 2012. Saturday’s game will also be the first of three straight for the Cardinals away from home.
“What’s going to be critical for us is when we go on the road, we have to pack our defense,” said Cardinals’ head coach Charlie Strong. “Defensively, we’re going to have to play well. We have to play well in the kicking game. The thing the kicking game does is it changes the field position for us. We have to be disciplined and do what we’re coached to do. We have to play together. Anytime you’re on the road, it’s all about your togetherness. It’s us against them, so as a team, you have to play together. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. The next month is going to be a really good challenge for us. We’re going to see how strong of a football team we are and how well we can play away from home.”
In last season’s game with the Panthers at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, linebacker Winston Fraser returned an interception 71 yards and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton scored touchdowns on his first two catches as Louisville suffered its first loss of the season in frustrating fashion. The Cardinals bounced back from that loss and went to have a very successful season in 2011, which included a BIG EAST Conference title, while FIU competed in its second straight bowl game in winning the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
“We’re not really worried about last season. We have a totally different mentality,” said Louisville senior tight end Nate Nord on whether last year’s game would serve as motivation for the Cardinals. “FIU is obviously a talented team. They have 10 guys (on defense) coming back from a team that beat us and went to a bowl game last year, so we know we’re going to get all we want from them. They’ll be ready to play. Coach (Mario) Cristobal is doing a great job down there as far as recruiting in that area. We know we’re going to get a tough game Saturday.”
Saturday night’s game will be a reunion of sorts for the Cardinals, who have more than 20 players on the 2012 roster from Miami and the surrounding area. With many familiar faces on the FIU roster from their high school playing days and with so family members and friends at FIU Stadium to watch the game, the Louisville players must manage the distractions and emotions that could come into play.
“I think a lot of them are excited to see their family members, but at the same time, it’s business,” Nord told reporters on Monday afternoon. “They know the most important reason they’re going down there is to play a football game at the end of the day.”
For Strong, he knows working through the distractions of the weekend will serve a challenging test for his squad and he has reminded them of what FIU brings to the field for Saturday night’s showdown.
“I told them ‘this team came in here and beat us, so we’re going to respect them,'” Strong said. “‘This is a good team. They return 18 starters, so you know what you’re up against. You’re on the road and you’re going to their place.’ And I said ‘the distraction with your families is something that we’re going to have to get through. We have to make sure our focus is on the football game and not seeing your families.'”
Louisville (3-0) at FIU (1-2)
When: Sept. 22, 2012 – 7 p.m. ET
Where: FIU Stadium (20,000)
Television/Web: ESPN3 at WatchESPN.com – Drew Fellios (p-x-p), Rene Ingoglia (analyst) and Anastasia Saunders (sideline) will broadcast the game live.
Radio: The Louisville Sports Radio Network with Paul Rogers (p-x-p), Joe Tronzo (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sideline) calling the action
Series Record: FIU leads 1-0
In Miami: First ever meeting
Last Meeting: FIU 24, Louisville 17 – 2011 in Louisville, Ky.
Rankings: Louisville is ranked 18th in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and 20th in the latest AP Top 25; FIU is unranked.