Saturday’s FIU regular-season finale doesn’t shape up just as a trap game for Western Kentucky. It might be the all-time ultimate trap game setup.
A week after FIU walked into the buzzsaw of a Marshall team with everything to play for, the Panthers host a Hilltoppers team with almost nothing on the table.
Everything is on the table for 5-6 FIU — bowl eligibility; a happy sendoff for this year’s seniors; a win against a team that doesn’t qualify, one way or another, for parking its team bus in the blue spaces close to the stadium gate.
Western is 8-2, with as many wins against FBS opponents as the five teams FIU has beaten this season (and, unlike those opponents, none of Western’s eight FBS wins came against FBS newbie Charlotte or lightly-regarded Eastern Michigan).
But the luxury bought by Western’s 6-0 record in Conference USA is a week playing without consequences, aside from possible injury.
Second place in C-USA’s East Division sits Marshall, 6-1 in conference play. Western and Marshall play each other the day after Thanksgiving.
The winner takes the East Division and reaches the Conference USA championship game, whether or not Western beats FIU.
Of course, Western’s got pride on the line, especially offensive pride. Record-setting quarterback Brandon Doughty came out of North Broward Prep.
Over the last three years, since Bobby Petrino took over for 2013, then left for Louisville and handed the team to offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers pile up points like they’re in the Big 12.
They’ve been held under 30 points three times in the last two seasons: 59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech in 2014; this year’s season opening 14-12 win over Vanderbilit; and a 48-20 loss to LSU that turned into a blowout late.
“Our guys understand that each game is equally important,” Brohm said. “People are expecting us to do certain things, and we need to go out there and perform at a high level, and each week, try to get better than we were the week before.
“This week presents a lot of challenges: it’s an away game, on their home turf where they haven’t lost this year, and they have a lot riding on this game and are probably going to be angry at the way they played last week,” he continued. “We have to match that intensity and understand that we want to continue to win, and this is a tough football team with good players and good athletes.”
This year’s Western Kentucky vs. FIU game won’t resemble the most recent ones.
FIU and Western Kentucky haven’t played since Willie Taggart left Western for South Florida, taking his running back-and-defense style with him. Taggart got replaced by Petrino, who likes things a little more wide open. Here’s how different this year’s Western Kentucky-FIU game should be from the recent past.
Combined points, both teams, in the past two FIU vs. Western Kentucky games: 39.
Number of times Western Kentucky and FIU have scored 40 points by themselves in 2015: nine.