LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville players insist they won't look past winless Florida International on Saturday even though the No. 7 Cardinals are heavily favored to win.
The young Panthers (0-3) enter the game allowing an average of 38.3 points per contest and FCS Bethune-Cookman rushed for 311 yards and four touchdowns against them. Louisville (3-0) is averaging 40 points a contest and rushed for a season-high 242 yards in a win over Kentucky.
The Cardinals also hold the edge in several other categories and are 42-point favorites.
Still, Louisville remains wary and respectful of FIU because of their 1-1 record against the Panthers, who won here two years ago and played Louisville close last year in Miami.
FIU's record makes them even more dangerous and desperate in the minds of the Cardinals, who don't want to enter next week's bye with a nonconference loss because of a letdown after last week's win over rival Kentucky.
"One of the toughest tasks for a coach is to get his team ready that's highly favored," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "I want our team to play as if it's got something to prove. A lot of teams know how to be successful, but very few can handle success. ... Every time we become too satisfied, satisfaction leads to loss of hunger."
Louisville's competitive history with FIU shows what can happen if the Cardinals don't heed Strong's message.
Two years ago, the Panthers came here and stunned the Cardinals 24-17 in the first of four games between the schools. Louisville returned the favor 28-21 last fall in south Florida, scoring on consecutive second-half possessions that withstood FIU's late rally.
Louisville considers FIU a program with something to prove after being outscored 115-23 in three games including last week's 34-13 home loss to Bethune-Cookman. While youth is one of things first-year FIU coach Ron Turner has had to deal with, something about the Cardinals seems to inspire the Panthers.
Familiarity between FIU and Louisville players has something to do with that. Of 39 Cardinals from the Sunshine State, 23 are from south Florida including junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
"It's a big rivalry just because so many players here are from Florida," said Louisville linebacker James Burgess, a Homestead, Fla., native. "Just playing against players you played with in high school or Little League makes it a rivalry."
Here are five things to look for when No. 7 Louisville hosts FIU:
BIG PLAYS: The Cardinals allowed a 43-yard kickoff return, three 25-yard-plus pass plays and a 47-yard run to Kentucky without much damage on the scoreboard, but they know they can't continue giving up big gains with the conference schedule approaching in a couple of weeks. "You just can't give up big plays on defense," Strong said. "We just have to play tighter coverage. We play a lot of zone and we need to some man coverage and let our corners just lock down their receivers."
NEW FACES: FIU had to start the season with huge roster turnover, losing 30 seniors and 55 players with a combined 762 starts. New Panthers coach Ron Turner has a roster featuring just four returning starters and 20 players with 110 combined starts. Twenty players have made their first starts this season including nine on offense and eight on defense.
THIRD-DOWN EFFICIENCY: Though Louisville's defense is ranked fifth with a 24% third-down conversion rate, the Cardinals' offense is just as potent on the "money down." They rank seventh nationally at 62%.
DOUBLE-DUTY MEDLOCK: Panthers' starting quarterback Jake Medlock showed his punting skills last week against Bethune-Cookman with five kicks for 177 yards including a 58-yarder. Younger brother Sam did the long snapping.
EVEN-KEEL OFFENSE: Louisville ran the ball more last week against Kentucky out of necessity, but Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has done well trying to keep a balance between rushing and passing. So far Louisville has run the ball 109 times and thrown it 93, averaging out to just over five more rushing plays per game.