Panthers welcome Cardinals back to the Cage

By: Jorge Corrales/Staff Writer

The FIU Panthers (1-2) close out a four-game homestand Saturday, Sept. 20, when they welcome the Louisville Cardinals (2-1) to Ocean Bank Field. Gametime is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be aired on Fox Sports One.

The Cardinals are the second straight ACC opponent to visit FIU. The Panthers are coming off a tough loss to Pitt at home. They jumped out to an early 16-0 lead but were unable to stop Pitt’s rushing assault and fell 25-42. Quarterback Alex McGough had the best game of his freshman campaign. McGough went 15-30 for 224 yards and two touchdown passes. He also ran one in from three yards out — the first rushing touchdown of his career. He will be under center again on Saturday.

“We played really well at times on Saturday and did some really good things,” said coach Ron Turner. “We gotta do that for four quarters. We gotta execute defensively, offensively and on special teams.”

Special teams has been an important part of all three games for the Panthers. On one hand, Richard Leonard has been outstanding at returning kicks and giving the Panthers good field position. Leonard is averaging 21.4 yards-per-return, ranking him 9th in the nation. On the other hand, punting has been an issue. Chris Ayers is averaging only 34.8 yards-per-attempt on punts this year.

When asked if there would be a change at the position,Turner said, “We’ll look at it. We’re gonna let guys compete and make a decision this week. We’ll see who wants to step up and do it.”

Turnovers and big plays have helped the Panthers this year. Last week alone, they forced three turnovers and had a 57-yard touchdown reception from Glenn Coleman.

“We had 10, what we consider, ‘big plays’ last week,” said Turner. “I don’t know if we had 10 ‘big plays’ in any game last year. We might have gone six games without having 10 ‘big plays.’ That’s a big improvement.”

Saturday will mark the fourth straight year that the Panthers and Cardinals face-off. Louisville leads the series 2-1. The last meeting between the two schools was Sept. 21, 2013. The Cardinals gave the Panthers their worst loss of the season at 72-0. The Panthers were only able to manage 27 total yards and 2 first-downs.

But this is a different Louisville team than the one from a year ago. Last year, the Cardinals had one of the top players in college football with Teddy Bridgewater and were in National Championship conversations. This year, Bridgewater has moved on to the NFL and the Cardinals are coming off a loss to the Virginia Cavaliers.

“We’re not even thinking about last year,” said Turner. “We’re a different team. The focus is first and foremost on us, as it always is. We don’t worry about what they have on their helmet or the name on their back. We focus on ourselves to get better but at the same time prepare for them.”

After Saturday, the Panthers will take to the road for the first time in 2014. They will head to Birmingham, Ala., to take on the University of Alabama Blazers on Sept. 27.

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