Riding a three-game winning streak, the 18th-ranked Cardinals will take the field offensively on Saturday night coming off a win against North Carolina which included two starkly different halves of football. In a highly impressive opening 30 minutes against the Tar Heels, Louisville rolled up 36 points while tallying 360 yards of total offense, including 218 through the air. However, the frustrating final 30 minutes had the Cardinals being outscored 27-3 while gaining only 102 total yards as they held off a furious UNC rally.
“We came out and moved the ball two straight drives to start the second half and we had really good rhythm, but we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. “Then, we came out in the third drive and had a costly sack when we were taking a shot down the field, so it was some execution errors. With a young football team, we felt the pressure of ‘wait, this isn’t right and something goofy is happening.’ But as a team in the second half, we didn’t help ourselves out on any side of the ball.”
During that first half explosion, sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was terrific throwing for those 218 yards on 16-of-19 passing and three touchdowns. Having completed more than 81 percent of his passes (72-for-82) this season for an average of 285 yards through the air per game, Bridgewater is among the nation’s best quarterbacks statistically entering week four of the season.
“Teddy uses all five weapons (in the offense),” said Watson in reference to Bridgewater’s decision making on each play. “The way we’re built, if there’s a specific type of coverage, he can work one side of the field or the other or take an alert for a deep ball. He’s using everything right now. In last week’s game, the stats may not have shown it, but it was his best game in terms of decisions. He was pretty rock solid in his decision making and he didn’t make very many mistakes. He actually had two burned passes and two dropped passes in his incompletions, so if you do the quick math, he had a pretty good day.”
That decision making for Bridgewater has allowed him to spread the wealth through the air this season. In last week’s win against UNC, 10 different Cardinals had pass receptions, while on the season, a total of 12 different players have catches for Louisville. One player in the Cards’ receiving corps who hasn’t started the season as fast as many people expected is sophomore DeVante Parker. The Louisville native has six catches for 82 yards through three games, but did not have a catch in last week’s win.
“The way that we’re built, all five of those guys have a chance to get the ball,” Watson said referring to the number of pass-catching options for the Cardinals on each play. “Basically, it’s how defenses are playing us. For DeVante, I know he had one opportunity on Saturday and unfortunately, he wasn’t able to snag it home. I think defenses have to contend with him, but they have to contend with all of them because I don’t know who you try to take out.”
Defensively, FIU (1-2) has allowed an average of 39 points per game while giving up more than 420 yards of total offense to its opponents per outing. On the opposite side, the Cardinals are averaging 35.3 points per game and more than 467 yards of total offense, including 177 yards on the ground per contest. The rushing duo of Senorise Perry (88.7 rushing yard per game and three touchdowns) and Jeremy Wright (87.3 yards per game and four touchdowns) have gained many of the headlines for the Cardinals’ rushing attack, but a key ingredient in their success has been the work of fullbacks Jarel McGriff-Culver and Nick Heuser.
“Nick (Heuser) and McGriff (Jarel McGriff-Culver) have done a nice job,” said Watson of the Cardinals’ fullback tandem. “Both of those kids have really played well for us. That was something we didn’t have in the offense a year ago and we wanted to add that element of lead football because if you’re going to be a good running team, you’ve got to have lead football, especially in the red zone. The guys have played really for us and it’s an important part of what we’re doing.”