University of Louisville

FIU has Cards' full attention

Louisville isn't taking FIU lightly, not after last year.

The No. 20 Cardinals are being careful not to let revenge get in the way of Saturday night's mission against the Golden Panthers in Miami. The Golden Panthers surprised the Cardinals 24-17 last year in Louisville, using two long touchdowns by T.Y. Hilton to earn their first win against a BCS opponent.

That loss has stuck with many of Louisville's players from south Florida, who want to go home and return the favor. Louisville (3-0) has shown its scoring proficiency and wants to demonstrate it can close games once they get an opponent down.

Doing so against FIU (1-2) would please the Cardinals. But after last week's near-collapse against North Carolina, Louisville isn't taking anything for granted.

"It shouldn't have gotten to that point," safety Hakeem Smith said of having to hold off the Tar Heels, adding that the team was still upset by its defensive breakdowns. "It's a new week."

Cardinals' sophomore safety Calvin Pryor concedes that he and his teammates underestimated the Golden Panthers last year in their first-ever matchup.

"It was early in the season and we just thought FIU was a bad football team to be honest with you," said Pryor, who leads U of L with 23 tackles and is tied for second nationally with three forced fumbles.

Louisville feels differently now about FIU now, even though Hilton is now a member of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. Coach Charlie Strong said his club respects this year's squad, which returns 18 starters and was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference.

FIU's win was a harbinger of this year's Sun Belt success against big conference foes. Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky have both earned overtime wins against SEC opponents — then-No. 8 Arkansas and Kentucky, respectively.

And while Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Bedford says he's "thrilled" not having to devise another game plan to stop Hilton, he notes that senior receiver Wayne Times has stepped in to put up big numbers. Times leads FIU with 17 receptions and 182 yards.

"They still have some good players," Bedford said. Wayne "Times is the T.Y. Hilton for them this year. He is playing really well. I'm concerned about him and tackling him in space. He is a very shifty guy after he catches the ball."

To remind the Cardinals of how big plays hurt, they reviewed last year's game that included Winston Fraser's 71-yard interception return for a touchdown along with Hilton's big catches. FIU never trailed and coach Mario Cristobal and his players wildly celebrated on Louisville's field afterward.

Last week's game against North Carolina is still fresh in the Cardinals' minds as well.

Andrew Johnson had to break up a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve a 39-34 Louisville win after the Cardinals has built a commanding lead. The Tar Heels also completed six passes of at least 20 yards, including 44- and 50-yard touchdowns to Romar Morris. That was twice as many as Louisville had allowed in its first two wins combined.

Four of those plays happened in the second half as North Carolina rallied from a 36-7 deficit and had a chance for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes.

"You're always concerned about giving up big plays," Bedford said. "If you give up big plays on defense, your chance of winning goes down tremendously."