Florida International U

FIU Panthers have their hands full against Bethune-Cookman

Three things you need to know about Bethune-Cookman’s visit to FIU on Saturday night for a football game at 6:

• Bethune’s bringing “The Pride,” the 325-member Marching Wildcats band.

• Bethune comes in ranked No. 23 nationally in the Football Championship Division and has won two of the past three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles.

• Bethune definitely can beat FIU.

The people who make their living betting on games certainly think so. FIU has been a 2 1/2-to-3-point underdog since about two hours after they opened as a favorite. Rarer than an open parking spot the first week of classes is the Football Bowl Subdivision team that’s an underdog to an FCS team. And at home.

Asked if that bothered him, FIU sophomore running back Lamarq Caldwell said, “It does because we’re all competitors. But at the end of the day, we’ve just got to play good football.”

At 0-2 and coming off a home shutout loss, FIU could use the confidence elevation that usually comes from savoring a succulent cupcake at home. But Bethune’s no patsy pastry.

“They show me a lot of athleticism, a lot of speed,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us to match up with that speed. What they do, they do very well. They’re a good football team, capable of a lot of big plays offensively. Defensively, they pressure and play a lot of man coverage.”

If the past is any indication (and it usually is), the Wildcats will force FIU to get its offense together for at least a few drives. In 37 games under coach Brian Jenkins, Bethune has been held to fewer than 10 points once, and the Wildcats will do it on the ground — 444 rushing yards to only 280 passing after the first two games.

“You don’t want to press,” FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. “As a play-caller on defense, we pressured way more against UCF than we did against Maryland. We felt we could get after them, move our front and it would be a strength of ours. It’s always that balance of how much do you press trying to make a negative play, trying to make a turnover, because when you do that, you’re rolling the dice a little bit.”

Not that the read-option unit impressed Jenkins in either the Wildcats’ 12-9 win against Tennessee State or 66-7 blowout of Division II Virginia Union.

“We’re all over the place offensively,” Jenkins said. “We haven’t done anything exceptionally well the first two games.”

Bethune certainly won’t be intimidated by going against an FBS team. The Wildcats past two games against college football’s premier division, against the University of Miami in 2011 and 2012 at Sun Life Stadium, saw them attack with confident impudence. Each time, the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Both games ended in blowout wins for UM. But the Panthers are a young team still in the midst of figuring out who they are, especially on offense. They’re still learning who the pieces are. Redshirt freshman Trenton Saunders gets a second start at right guard with Jordan White still injured. Redshirt sophomore walk-on wide receiver Fred Porter might see the field earlier than either the first two games.

“I don’t believe in that,” Jenkins said. “Young or old, you’ve been playing since you were 8 years old. I don’t think youth comes into play.”

On the MEAC coaches conference call earlier this week, Jenkins sounded more worried about FIU’s running game against his front line that goes 255 pounds, 265, 250 and 250 across the front. To work in with Caldwell, freshman Alfonso Randolph and junior college transfer Talir Satterfield-Rowe, the Panthers get running back Shane Coleman back after a knee injury kept him out of last week’s loss to UCF.

“The competition may not be what we played the first couple of weeks [Maryland and UCF], but it doesn’t matter,” Turner said. “They come in here with that speed, that’s a threat. That’s a scare.

“They’re a good football team that has been winning and knows how to win. There’s something to that.”

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