CRAWFORD | Cards take care of business at FIU, but have plenty l - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards take care of business at FIU, but have plenty left to do

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The U of L defense led the way in its win at FIU. (AP Photo) The U of L defense led the way in its win at FIU. (AP Photo)
Final stats from U of L's win at FIU (Statbroadcast.com, click image to enlarge) Final stats from U of L's win at FIU (Statbroadcast.com, click image to enlarge)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- All week, the University of Louisville football players and coaches described their game at Florida International as "a business trip."

The Cards took care of business in Miami. They were never threatened in a 34-3 victory over FIU (see full stats by clicking the image at right).

But they return to Louisville with more business unfinished than squared away.

For anyone who watched Clemson's overtime loss at Florida State Saturday night, one truth stood out: The Cards have a long way to go to be ready to deal with these teams, who loom ahead on the schedule, particularly on the offensive front. But they do have time to improve.

CRAWFORD | Quick thoughts after Louisville's win at FIU

FIU came into the game with what Petrino termed a "kamikaze" defensive strategy. What his phrasing lacks, perhaps, in political correctness, it makes up for in description. FIU literally was going to stop the run at all costs, looking to jam the box and hope to pressure U of L quarterback Will Gardner, knowing that the Cardinals could batter them in the passing game if the defensive gambit didn't work.

The result of that strategy: U of L passed for 324 yards and ran for a net of just 12.

To some degree, the struggles in the run game were the result of that defensive strategy, committing linebackers and safeties to load up against the run.

But there were still some concerns. FIU managed nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks, for 55 yards in U of L losses.

"We're still not clicking where we need to be offensively," Petrino said.

Petrino made some adjustments along the offensive line, but the group still hasn't gelled. Jake Smith moved back to center, and Skylar Lacy made his first start at guard. The coach didn't have a clear immediate opinion on the play of the group.

At quarterback, Gardner didn't throw an interception, but he did fumble twice, and nearly bogged down before Gerod Holliman sparked the Cardinals with an interception and touchdown return, and Petrino decided to abandon his hopes to run the ball and just air it out. Petrino said Gardner did some good things, but also missed some run checks. He described quarterback play as "up and down a little bit." Gardner left the game in the third quarter when his braced left knee got banged on a late hit. Petrino said after the game he didn't know the extent of the injury, only that Gardner wasn't available for the rest of the game. With Reggie Bonnafon home for the funeral of his father, Petrino gave a couple of series to Brett Nelson before letting freshman Kyle Bolin finish up.

But the more you watch this offense, and the more you watch the defenses of teams like Florida State and Clemson, the more important Bonnafon looms for U of L's future hopes. Not that Gardner can't be productive against those teams -- but Bonnafon's ability and willingness to run, coupled with Gardner's injury situation, makes the true freshman from Louisville Trinity even more critical.

"We were a little bull-headed and kept trying to do it (run the ball), Petrino said on his postgame radio show by Learfield Sports. "Finally in the second quarter we just said hey let's call it and just throw it down the field."

James Quick did the rest. If you're looking for a bright spot in the game, put Quick front and center. If the Cards couldn't win the battle in the trenches, they went up and over FIU, and Quick became the kind of deep threat fans have hoped he would be since he signed with U of L out of Trinity High School.

Quick recorded a career-high seven catches for a career-best 174 yards and two scores. It was the most yards for a Cardinal receiver since Arnold Jackson had 174 against Cincinnati in 1999. He added 61 yards on seven punt returns for 235 all-purpose yards.

His game-breaking TD catch, after tangling with a defender, then spinning away from him and running down the sideline for a 74-yard reception. Quick has emerged as much as any receiver in practice during the absence of DeVante Parker.

The absence of Parker, as expected, has had an effect on every aspect of U of L's offense. He was the one player opposing defenses had to build game plans around, could draw extra attention in the pass game, and was central to many things Petrino wanted to do from a formation and scheme standpoint. Without him, things are more difficult for this team. His return will help the offense, but there's no way of knowing quite when that will happen, nor how effective he will be coming off the injury.

Meanwhile, it's perhaps the surprise of the season that the defense continues to lead the way for the Cardinals. It's the opposite of what most expected after the Cards lost so many defensive starters.

In fact, the defense is the unit that looks the most ready for those high-level ACC matchups that lay ahead.

It's hard to believe, but Holliman made his first start of the season at safety, and has become a true playmaker in the secondary, leading the nation with five interceptions.

The Cards also got a career high eight tackles from defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

U of L now ranks seventh nationally in total defense -- sixth against the run, 26th against the pass. The Cards are No. 12 in scoring defense, fifth in scoring defense and No. 3 nationally in opponent third-down percentage.

Maybe it's not a surprise, following a coaching staff who's No. 1 priority was "win with defense," but at this point, Petrino will take it. The defense is achieving with a new cast, and some important holdovers.

Offensively, the Cards are 93rd in rushing offense -- and they've not played powerhouse defenses. They've given up 12 sacks in four games -- only seven teams in the nation have given up more (one of them is FIU, another is Wake Forest, Saturday's opponent).

The Cards are No. 112 in tackles for loss allowed, 28 in four games.

Don't expect Petrino to abandon the running game -- not with the stable of running backs he has. Michael Dyer made his season debut Saturday, carrying eight times for 16 yards, but he left the game with a limp, and afterward Petrino said he still needs some "freshening up," meaning he needs to get his game conditioning back.

In Wake Forest this Saturday and Syracuse the following Friday, the Cards have games they're expected to win. But after the past two performances, against Virginia and FIU, those don't look to be easy wins, by any stretch.

The good news for the Cards is that they still have time to find some answers -- before the big boys start coming up on the schedule in October.

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