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E.J. Hilliard will get his fourth career start as an FIU Panther and first start this season when FIU plays at No. 7 Louisville on Saturday (You can listen to the game on the FIU Sports Radio Network by CLICKING HERE. I’ll have the call beginning at 11:55 a.m.).
Hilliard has played in each game this season in relief of starter Jake Medlock, who might miss Saturday’s game with a concussion. In limited duty, Hilliard is 10 of 13 for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Although going against the No. 7 team in the nation, who is clicking on all cylinders right now, is a daunting task, Hilliard played well against the Cardinals last season at FIU where he was 9 of 10 for 82 yards and a touchdown in a 28-21 loss. Overall in his three starts as a Panther, Hilliard is 56 of 84 (67% completion), 563 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Against such a high-powered offense like Louisville, it will be very important for Hilliard and the offense to sustain drives – something FIU has had trouble with through the first three games of this season. The Cardinals don’t take long to score and are fast starters outscoring their opponents 65-3 in the first half of games this season.
You might see FIU coach Ron Turner call some short pass plays to get Hilliard in a rhythm early on. The Panthers might also take to the ground a lot to try and keep Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Cards offense off the field. Of course, FIU will need to move the chains with first downs for that to happen. Hilliard may be feeding FIU running backs and tight ends early to get some quick yardage.
When it comes to Bridgewater and the Cardinals offense, the FIU defense will have its hands full. Yes, stopping Bridgewater will be task No. 1, but the Louisville skill players are just as dangerous. Running backs Senorise Perry and Michael Dyer average more than five yards per carry. Perry led the Cardinals with 74 yards against FIU in last year’s game. Dyer was the 2011 Offensive MVP for Auburn in the National Championship game and had a cup of coffee at Arkansas State before transferring to Louisville.
Through the air Bridgewater has receivers DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland, who have combined for seven touchdowns already. Parker is averaging a T.Y. Hilton-like 19.8 yards per catch. The return of safety Demarkus Perkins will help the Panthers secondary, but the FIU defense will need to play its best game to contain this potent offense.
The Cardinals will be the best team the Panthers face all season. Saturday’s game will provide another measuring stick for the FIU coaching staff to see what kind of progress has been made through the four-game non-conference schedule. FIU has a bye next week and returns to the gridiron on October 5 at Southern Miss.
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