Posted by Jerry Hinnen
FIU WON: There was no question which team had the best player on the field, and in the end, that player left no doubt about which was the best team on the field. Golden Panther All-American candidate T.Y. Hilton dominated the game, finishing with a school record 201 yards receiving (on just 7 receptions, a 28.7-yard average) and 268 all-purpose yards. His touchdown receptions of 74 and 83 yards broke open the game in the first half and the FIU defense held the Cards to just seven second-half points.
WHY FIU WON: Aside from Hilton's game-defining explosiveness, the Golden Panthers also benefited from Louisville's total inability to finish drives. The Cardinals outgained FIU 498-293 for the game but time and again crossed midfield only to come away empty-handed ... or worse, as was the case when Will Stein ended the Cards' first possession (and a 10-play drive) with a 74-yard pick-six that put FIU up 7-0 early.
From there Louisville put together drives of 29, 53, 25, and (in the fourth quarter) a backbreaking 76 yards -- with FIU stuffing runs on both 3rd- and 4th-and 1 after those 76 yards -- that resulted in a grand total of three points. The game was summed up by the Cards' follow-up drive to that failure, which began at midfield and featured an incredible scramble and completion by Stein to convert 3rd-and-13, setting his team up first-and-10 at the FIU 33 ... only for the Panthers' Tourek Williams to come up with a 13-yard sack on the very next play.
WHEN FIU WON: Three plays after that sack, Stein's desperation deep ball to Josh Chichester was broken up, and FIU took over up 14 points with just under 6 minutes to play. (At that point, Louisville had spent two drives running 21 plays, covering 84 yards, and eating up 10 minutes of clock ... and producing zero points.) Though not officially done until FIU recovered an onsides kick and forced the Cards to start their last-gasp drive inside their own 3, after that turnover on downs anything short of an Auburn-style miracle would result in an FIU win.
WHAT FIU WON: An impressive 2-0 start and the program's first-ever win over a BCS-conference program, for starters. But the unquestioned status of 2011 Sun Belt favorite, too, and for Hilton, maybe even some honest-to-goodness Heisman candidacy buzz.
WHAT LOUISVILLE LOST: Just about all the 2011 optimism lingering from Charlie Strong's encouraging 2010 debut. No doubt Strong's effective recruiting and solid defensive coaching will have the Cards competitive throughout the season and Big East title contenders in future campaigns. But this year's edition is too young on the offensive line and too shaky in the secondary to expect anything more than a low-level bowl appearance--a modest goal that after tonight's loss might still prove to be out of reach.