Under a London gray sky Saturday afternoon, FIU remained in Louisville’s face with the persistency of the sideways rain. Late in the second quarter, an FIU upset in the wet seemed no sillier than some of this season’s other results around college football.
Then, the freshman quarterback played like a freshman. The short, strong cornerback got outsized and outwrestled. And just before the sun emerged at halftime, three touchdowns blacked out FIU’s upset chances in a 34-3 loss at FIU Stadium.
A 7-0 deficit metamorphosed into a 28-0 blowout in 4:11 on Southridge High graduate Gerod Holliman’s 32-yard interception return; James Quick’s 74-yard catch-and-run; and Quick’s 37-yard catch in wide-open space.
Only 1:22 remained in the second quarter. The half officially ended with sophomore Austin Taylor’s 28-yard field goal, as FIU freshman quarterback Alex McGough scrambled or threw for all 54 yards on the drive. But the game, competitively, ended with the second Quick touchdown.
Quick finished with seven catches for 174 yards, six for 170 and those two touchdowns in the first half.
McGough, 5 of 13 passing for 47 yards and two Holliman interceptions, left the game after a third quarter sack that led to a fumble.
FIU coach Ron Turner said McGough sustained a jammed right ring finger during warmups before the game and a knee contusion on his last play but could have gone back into the game. Turner replaved McGough with E.J. Hilliard, who was 8 of 12 passing for 70 yards.
“To play a good team like they are and have a chance to win, you’ve got to give yourself a chance,” Turner said. “We didn’t do that. We did some good things defensively; we had a couple of busts, gave up some big plays. But offensively we did not give ourselves a chance to have any kind of chance whatsoever.”
It was appropriate for two teams filled with South Florida natives that big plays dictated the direction of the game. Neither offense moved with crisp consistency after Louisville’s first possession touchdown.
FIU (1-3) came up with a mere 205 yards of total offense and held Louisville to 12 yards rushing on 35 attempts. Even subtracting FIU’s four sacks, two of which were by junior defensive end Michael Wakefield, the Cardinals (3-1) gained only 56 yards and 1.8 yards per rush.
“We played our technique well as a defensive line, we stayed in our gaps, stayed off the blocks, the linebackers filled their holes,” Wakefield said.
The Cardinals marched 58 yards to L.J. Scott’s 1-yard plunge. FIU nearly foiled the drive at the FIU 37, but sophomore quarterback Will Gardner managed a safety-valve completion that running back Dominique Brown turned into a 9-yard gain.
Drizzling rain returned late in the first quarter, lending atmosphere to an old-fashioned defensive fight. Wakefield ended the next Louisville scoring threat by swatting the ball from Gardner’s hand on third down from the FIU 8. Gardner jumped on the ball only to see it squirt out for Denzell Perine’s recovery.
Wakefield ended the next drive by pressuring Gardner out of bounds for no gain on third down from the Cardinals’ 28.
The rain stopped. The deluge started.
McGough threw a quick out to his left that Holliman read. The 32-yard touchdown put Louisville up 14-0 with 5:33 left in the second quarter.
“That was huge,” Turner said. “It’s a high-percentage pass. They had the corner off, the safety rotated down late, and Alex misjudged where he was, thought he could lay it outside him.”
Holliman picked off McGough on the next play from scrimmage to set up Louisville at the FIU 42. Imarjaye Albury devoured Michael Dyer for a 5-yard loss on first down, and the Panthers got the ball back on downs to keep the game within reach.
But a Quick finish came on Louisville’s next two possessions. From the FIU 26, Gardner lofted the ball deep up the right sideline, where the 6-1 Quick and 5-9 Richard Leonard positioned as if under the basket waiting for a rebound.
The taller Quick grabbed the ball over his head with both hands, held on as Leonard got a hand on the ball and somehow managed to keep enough body control to do a wobbly tap dance that kept him inbounds.
“I saw it right from the start,” Leonard said. “I was looking like, ‘I got this.’ I kind of relaxed on the pass. He caught it. It was a good catch, but I could’ve gotten two hands on the ball and intercepted it.”
No such athleticism necessary on Quick’s 37-yard touchdown. Nobody covered him. He caught the ball at about the 15 and beat safety Demarkus Perkins to the pylon.
“I’ll have to see the film, but guys probably lost eye discipline and tried to do something they weren’t supposed to do,” Turner said.
At that point, Louisville had scored 100 unanswered points on FIU over two seasons.