Florida International U

Panthers defense preparing for offensive flurry

The second week of a rebuilding season for FIU must see rebuilding within the rebuilding, specifically building back up the defense that got scorched for 576 yards and 43 points by Maryland.

Because UCF, Friday night’s visitors to FIU, might be even better offensively.

Redshirt junior quarterback Blake Bortles’ last interception came nine days before Election Day 2012. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes since then and opened this season with his first collegiate 300-yard passing game — 314 yards against Akron.

Breshad Perriman, son of former Miami Northwestern High and University of Miami star Brett Perriman, led UCF with 113 yards receiving against Akron. Among UCF’s top four wide receivers, Perriman was the only one who didn’t catch a pass against FIU last season.

There is experience at running back also, where former University of Miami running back Storm Johnson ran for 99 yards against Akron. But it’s UCF’s line, which averages 303.2 pounds tackle to tackle, that most concerns FIU.

“Up front, they’re very physical,” FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. “Their physicality is definitely something we’ve emphasized with our front guys, our linebackers as far as stopping the run inside. Also, on the perimeter, with some of the issues we had getting the perimeter stuff stopped last week.”

At least FIU can think of it as a strength-on-strength matchup. FIU’s defensive line figured to be the Panthers’ best unit and — even in a rout that featured 251 rushing yards — showed little to counter that analysis. At times, sophomore Michael Wakefield and seniors Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman overwhelmed Maryland’s interior.

“I was really pleased with our defensive line,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “They really played hard, had a tremendous attitude. They showed great leadership on the sideline. When things got bad, things got down, there wasn’t any bickering, there wasn’t any finger pointing. The whole defense for that matter, was encouraging everybody and being positive. That was good to see. You never know how your team’s going to react when there’s adversity.”

And FIU gets more depth there with junior defensive end Giovani Francois and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Marques Cheeks coming back from injury. Sophomore Darrian Dyson, who didn’t make the trip to Maryland, will also be in the tackle rotation.

But when Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown ran the triple option, those on the defense responsible for outside containment or the pitch man often had gone AWOL. Four option plays accounted for 133 yards of Maryland’s 251 yards rushing.

On the upside for FIU, Bortles works more from the pocket and runs as a way to get something from a play going nowhere.

“He’s just a solid player who makes really good decisions. Anytime a guy like that can run, he causes you potential issues,” Conklin said. “It’s almost like he throws the ball better on the run, which makes that a very difficult situation to defend at times.”

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