The last time Middle Tennessee entered FIU Stadium, at the end of the 2010 regular season, the Blue Raiders faced a five-loss FIU team with both teams looking toward bowl bids.
On Saturday night, Middle Tennessee comes into FIU Stadium halfway to being bowl-eligible while five-loss FIU will be trying to keep its fading bowl hopes alive.
Or, put another way, Middle Tennessee has much to gain, and FIU has got almost nothing to lose.
“It can be an advantage,” FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien said, looking at the upside of the Panthers’ situation.
“Hunger is big. You can tell when someone wants something so bad that they’ll do anything to get it. If everybody brings a mentality like that, it can be extra incentive.”
Of course, Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said: “They’re very dangerous, especially being 1-5. Their backs are against the wall, so we know we’ll get their best effort of the year this week.”
Help is on the way
Stockstill also expects to see FIU back at full strength for Saturday’s game.
That means redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock back starting at quarterback and junior Kedrick Rhodes at running back.
That has not happened since FIU’s 33-20 loss to UCF, when Rhodes sustained a right ankle sprain in the third quarter.
Not exactly knowing whether FIU will send out Medlock or freshman E.J. Hilliard, Stockstill said, “[It] presents a little extra dilemma [in preparation], but we’re planning on those guys being at full strength, healthy and playing.”
Logical, because while they carry similar skills overall — Medlock is a more physical runner while Hilliard is more slippery — Medlock’s experience allows FIU to not just use the whole playbook but do so at a faster pace.
“There’s so much carryover from our previous systems. Those decisions, they have to happen in an instant,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said.
“Look at our conference, the teams generating offense have great efficiency at quarterback. And you look at the sack totals in the conference, they’re really down. It’s because the ball is out quick. There’s a lot of screens, bubble screens. Either way, it relates to decision-making and getting it out on time and accurately. Jake’s just had more experience.”
Energy level up?
Case in point: Middle Tennessee, with junior Logan Kilgore at quarterback, has allowed only one sack in its first five games.
“E.J. certainly has to keep working at it,” Cristobal said. “He has to understand the workload involved in this is a 24-7 thing. As a quarterback, you can never leave the building and not take it with you. There’s time to disconnect and unplug, but as a quarterback, you’ve still got to be the brains of the operation.”
Stockstill expects to see a very different FIU team than the one that lost its first two Sun Belt games by a combined 42 points.
“[Medlock] brings a whole new dimension to their offense, more so in the passing game than the run game,” he said. “But the confidence level that he’ll bring to the whole team … the defense will be energized with him being out there. Their offensive personnel, the line and receivers, their confidence level will go up knowing he’s back there.”