Where on earth did the 18th ranked (USA Today) University of Louisville Cardinals leave their mojo? They traveled to Miami and entered Alfonso Field to take on the Florida International University Golden Panthers and seemingly forgot to bring their swagger with them for their first road game of the season. 6 inches of rain finally relented right before kickoff to give the teams relatively dry if humid conditions which should have played in UofL's favor. It did not.
The defense had trouble keeping the Panthers from moving the ball, giving up two touchdowns in the first half. Meanwhile, the Cardinal backfield disappeared. And for the first time this year, Teddy Bridgewater threw an interception. He finished the night with two total. Once the Cards were able to sustain a drive again, Bridgewater settled down and drove his offense to tie the score right before halftime.
Were there jitters for the many south Florida kids on the Cardinal roster? Was FIU better than their 1-2 record indicated going into this game? The Cards couldn't blame crowd noise since the stadium was at least half empty. Did the officials throw the Louisville defense off when they robbed Adrian Bushell of a clear interception? Whatever the problem, the Cards had to get it fixed at halftime.
Panther starting quarterback Jake Medlock left the game with foot fracture and Florida International had to find the right signal caller between two other choices to carry them through the rest of the game. Because of that the Panthers concentrated on the ground game, which the Cards had trouble stopping. And when FIU settled on E. J. Hilliard, he had a few Bridgewater-style true freshman moments including a touchdown pass.
However the high talent level of UofL made for mistakes by the home team. For example, the Panthers tried to blitz Bridgewater and he consistently made them pay. He used 7 different receivers including game leader Andrell Smith who had a SportsCenter worthy one handed grab at one point. Then a late roughing the kicker penalty allowed Louisville to keep the ball late in the game and run Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright to kill the rest of the clock.
Now the Cards are off to their first 4-0 start since 2006. That team, coached by Bobby Petrino finished the season 12-1, won the Orange Bowl and ended up as the 5th ranked team in the country. It's too early to look in that direction, but the 28-21 victory over an opponent that beat them at home last year gives fans something to think about while the team searches for that missing mojo.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton - from a previous game, used here for illustration purposes only