FIU didn’t lose to No. 20 Louisville 28-21 on Saturday night at FIU Stadium on attrition, though by halftime the Panthers had lost starting quarterback Jake Medlock and running back Darian Mallary, who was starting in place of injured junior Kedrick Rhodes. And they finished the night with a true freshman facing his first college action.
The Panthers didn’t lose because they got riddled by Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater threw two touchdown passes and ran for one, but 19-of-36 passing for 194 yards isn’t just pedestrian compared to his first three games, it’s pedestrian in general. FIU senior safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Chuck Grace even snatched Bridgewater’s first two interceptions of the season.
Nope. A fumbled punt and a fourth-and-1 from the Louisville 10 proved to be the places where FIU fell short of pulling off its first upset of a ranked opponent.
Medlock left the game in the second quarter after directing an 82-yard touchdown drive that put FIU ahead 14-7. Early in the drive, Medlock got hammered from behind as he completed an 18-yard pass to a diving Wayne Times. Medlock hobbled his way through the drive, including twisting and writhing for the last yard on a quarterback sneak. But that was it for him.
When next seen on the FIU sideline, Medlock was on crutches. FIU coach Mario Cristobal said Medlock had “a foot issue” and more would be known Sunday. Cristobal said Mallary likely sustained a concussion on the first-quarter play that took him out.
FIU went with redshirt freshman Lorenzo Hammonds Jr. at quarterback for the remaining second-quarter drives, then switched to freshman E.J. Hilliard in the third quarter. Hilliard, last year’s First Team All-Dade quarterback for Miami Northwestern High, finished 9 of 10 for 82 yards and a touchdown, a 4-yard fade to Jacob Younger that brought FIU within 28-21 with 4:53 left. Grace’s interception set up the score. Hilliard’s presence meant the quarterbacking in the second half was The West vs. The West — Hilliard and Bridgewater, who Hilliard called last week “like a big brother.”
Bridgewater’s touchdown run, a quarterback sneak that put Louisville up 28-14 six seconds into the fourth quarter, climaxed a drive that got goosed when Cyprien was judged to have made a helmet-to-helmet hit in breaking up a pass. That drive began in the third quarter after FIU eschewed a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-1 from the Louisville 10 down only 21-14. Instead, the Panthers ran senior Jeremiah Harden, one of their two remaining healthy running backs.
“They have a chance to make a fourth-and-1, let’s do it,” Cristobal said. “We have confidence in them to get it. We’re going to keep staying aggressive.”
Harden gained about 33 inches, officially. “It was a bad spot, but it happens in games,” Harden said.
He ran for 102 yards on his other 19 carries Saturday. Louisville senior wide receiver Andrell Smith, a Miami Palmetto High graduate, caught five passes for 50 yards and the 1-yard touchdown that tied the score at 14-14 with 26 seconds left in the first half. Times caught seven passes for 58 yards. Younger caught five for 73 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
Louisville had taken a 21-14 lead on a 6-yard Jeremy Wright touchdown run set up by FIU’s third turnover on a punt return this season. Junior Sam Miller, returning punts in place of sophomore Richard Leonard, who had fumbled two away earlier this season, muffed a punt after FIU stopped Louisville on the opening drive of the second half. Jarel McGriff-Culver recovered for Louisville at the FIU 46.
As Louisville took the ball after FIU closed within 28-21, the Cardinals threw it on first and third downs, with both falling incomplete. That slowed the clock drain to 49 seconds. With FIU about to get the ball back, redshirt freshman T.J. Lowder crashed into Louisville punter Josh Appleby, giving the Cardinals a first down. Bridgewater ran for a first down on third-and-8 to bring on the victory formation for Louisville.