Looking for reasons to think No. 7 Louisville, a 43-point favorite, won’t destroy 0-3 FIU on Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium?
Perhaps look to history. It does tend to repeat itself. Don’t look to the history of FIU, under a new coach with a thin, young roster, visiting a ranked team in front of a sellout crowd (sound familiar?).
That was Mario Cristobal’s first game as FIU coach in 2007, and No. 17 Penn State blasted the Panthers 59-0.
That got matched by the 62-3 drubbing No. 1 Florida laid on the Panthers in 2009 as the most massive blowout losses suffered by FIU in 11 1/4 seasons of football. No, the fountain of hope for no embarrassment isn’t there.
It’s in the recent history between these teams. Familiarity breeds, if not overall contempt, contempt for status.
FIU finished with only three wins last season while Louisville capped an 11-2 season with a Sugar Bowl victory, yet the Cardinals had to come from behind then hang on desperately to hang a 28-21 loss on FIU.
Louisville’s roster makeup likely boosts FIU’s gumption. The Cardinals have 39 players from Florida, the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision school not based in this state, and 18 players from Miami-Dade County. Twenty players on FIU’s roster shared a high school sideline with at least one Louisville player. The Cardinals aren’t some mysterious top-10 monster to FIU. They’re the guys from around the corner.
“We know them,” FIU sophomore wide receiver Dominqiue Rhymes said. “We know how they’re going to play. We know everything about them. There’s no intimidation. Just play your best.”
FIU coach Ron Turner said: “Hopefully, that’ll help. But when we go into that stadium and whatever it seats, 65,000 people — I’ve been there, it’s loud — we’ll see how [the Panthers] respond to it. Hopefully, there won’t be an intimidation factor.”
Asked in a Monday media session how many FIU players he knew, Louisville linebacker James Burgess Jr. said: “They’ve kicked a lot of players off the team. As of now, the only player I know is their quarterback, E.J. Hilliard. I played against him in high school my senior year when [Homestead High] played [Miami] Northwestern [High].”
Hilliard, who will start in place of concussed redshirt junior Jake Medlock, tends to draw nasty opponents. His introduction to college football came in the second half against Louisville last year after Medlock was injured.
His first start came a week later at Louisiana-Lafayette, home of sharp-tongued fans and a talented team. In fact, all three of Hilliard’s starts last year came against bowl teams.
Last Saturday’s loss to Bethune-Cookman, FIU’s third consecutive blowout loss, was the type that can crush a young team without some team leaders taking control.
“They’ve stepped up, whether seniors or not,” Turner said.
“They’ve talked to the young guys and said, ‘Let’s have some pride, go out and compete.’ Tuesday, before we got rained out it was probably the best practice of the year.”
Inspirational pregame coach speeches make for nice movie scenes. Reality is far more mundane. So what will Turner say in the locker room Saturday?
“What I say every week is, first and foremost, it’s about us,” he said.
“Focus on ourselves first. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. If we don’t take care of our business, we have no chance. We’ll prepare for our opponents but focus on ourselves. Just keep competing every play. Compete and do your best every play. You might be surprised by the results sometimes if you do that.”