70F Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
While Louisville possesses one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, it hopes the emergence of a dangerous ground attack can help it become even more prolific offensively.
The seventh-ranked Cardinals look to build on some newfound balance Saturday when they host a Florida International team that has given them trouble in the last two meetings.
With star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater posting season lows in several categories, Louisville (3-0) got a promising showing from its running game in a 27-13 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.
"We just told the offensive line we're going to line up and run it at them," said Bridgewater, who went 16 of 28 for 250 yards and one touchdown. "Once you're able to win the line of scrimmage, you're pretty much unstoppable."
Of the Cardinals' 492 total yards, 242 came on the ground. It was their best rushing effort since finishing with 299 in a 56-0 win over Memphis on Oct. 9, 2010.
This performance came a week after Louisville ran for 78 yards in a 44-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
"You want balance and any time you can get balance with your run and pass game, it is so critical," coach Charlie Strong said.
After rushing for 36 yards on 13 carries against the Colonels, Senorise Perry bounced back with 100 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown teamed for 107 yards on 23 carries after combining for 35 and 13 in Week 2.
Perry, who seeks his first back-to-back 100-yard games since Sept. 29 and Oct. 13, appears to have fully recovered from the right anterior cruciate ligament tear he sustained Nov. 10.
The Cardinals will try to avoid a letdown against FIU (0-3) in their final tuneup before the start of AAC play.
"The guys have to understand that even though we're in the position that we're in, we have to get better and we're going to get better," Strong said. "We're nowhere near where we should be."
Though winless this season, the Golden Panthers have given the Cardinals a tough time the past two years. Behind T.Y. Hilton's seven catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns, FIU won 24-17 at Louisville on Sept. 9, 2011.
Bridgewater had a subpar performance Sept. 22 when he went 19 of 36 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Cardinals managed to defeat FIU 28-21 on the road.
Perry had 74 of Louisville's 129 rushing yards in the contest.
An effective ground game could be key in this meeting with the Golden Panthers, who allowed 311 rushing yards in a 34-13 loss to Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. They've given up 727 yards on the ground and an average of 38.3 points this season.
FIU has also struggled to score under coach Ron Turner, totaling 23 points while gaining 191.0 yards per game. Turner has continued to use a two-quarterback system, with Jake Medlock going 30 of 55 for 303 yards and E.J. Hilliard going 10 for 13 for 75. Both have one touchdown and one interception.
Medlock and Hilliard combined to complete 19 of 26 for 198 yards and a score in last year's meeting with Louisville.
T.J. Lowder is coming off a breakout game, finishing with six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown Saturday. He'll be a priority for a Louisville defense that held Kentucky to 0 for 13 on third downs and forced three turnovers.
"That's just good to show that we focused on the money down," said middle linebacker Preston Brown, who has helped the Cardinals limit opponents to 27 points. "Third down is a big down for us."
The Golden Panthers have dropped seven all-time meetings with ranked opponents by an average of 34.5 points.