FIU coach Butch Davis says their defeat against the Miami Hurricane will only make their team better
The biggest home game in FIU football history is set for Saturday at noon.
With a victory, FIU (8-3, 6-1) would reach the Conference USA title game for the first time in school history. FIU would also reach nine victories in a season for the first time.
Marshall (7-3, 5-2) enters on a two-game win streak. The Thundering Herd, which lost 41-30 to visiting FIU last year, has also won four of its past five games.
It will be Senior Day for FIU, adding another emotional layer.
Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s big game:
When FIU has the ball: The Panthers should have the advantage here. FIU ranks second in C-USA in scoring, averaging 35.5 points. FIU also leads the league in third-down conversions (46.9 percent).
Balance is the key as FIU ranks third in the conference in rushing and passing yards. And, if the Panthers need a fourth-down conversion, they are 12 for 19 in that stat.
Quarterback James Morgan leads FIU’s offense. He needs 249 passing yards to break the FIU single-season record. The mark is now held by Alex McGough, who passed for 2,798 yards last year.
Morgan also leads the league with 26 touchdown passes, and he has only been sacked nine times and thrown five interceptions.
FIU spreads the ball around as three running backs have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season: D’Vonte Price and Napoleon Maxwell (twice each) and Shawndarrius Phillips. Anthony Jones completes the rotation.
When the Panthers need to throw, Austin Maloney ranks fourth in the nation in yards per catch (21.0). He has 25 catches for 526 yards.
But the Panthers have four other players with more than 20 catches: wide receivers C.J. Worton, Maurice Alexander and Bryce Singleton and tight end Sterling Palmer.
As for Marshall, the Herd has the best rush defense in the league but is just sixth in passing yards allowed. This may be a game where Morgan and his receivers do damage.
When Marshall has the ball: FIU has the second-worst rushing defense in the league, but the Herd might not have the ground game to exploit that weakness.
Marshall ranks ninth in rushing offense. Sophomore Tyler King is Marshall’s top running back. He ranks sixth in the league with 655 yards, and he’s averaging 6.1 yards per try.
Herd receiver Tyre Brady, a Miami Hurricanes transfer, is among the best players in the league. He has 59 catches for 845 yards and seven touchdowns this season, ranking in the top eight in all three categories.
But FIU’s pass defense ranks third the league, and the Panthers are second in interceptions with 15.
Two caveats regarding Marshall:
First of all, the Herd beat Florida Atlantic 31-7, shutting down superstar running back Devin Singletary (16 carries, 39 yards). FAU later routed FIU and ran for more than 400 yards.
Secondly, the Herd might have found a quarterback last week in a 23-0 win over a weak Texas-San Antonio team. Freshman Isaiah Green completed 19 of 36 passes for a career-high 387 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady caught six passes for 162 yards.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s possible bowl destinations include Honolulu, the Bahamas, New Orleans, Dallas, Albuquerque, Tampa and Boca Raton.
▪ FIU is 7-0 this year when leading after three quarters.
▪ FIU middle linebacker Sage Lewis is the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week. He had 11 tackles and a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown in last Saturday’s win over Charlotte.
Lewis has 117 tackles this season. With three more stops, he would break Keyon Bouie’s 2006 school record for single-season tackles.
▪ If FIU were to lose to Marshall, the Panthers could still back into the C-USA title game with a UAB win over Middle Tennessee later on Saturday.