Florida International U

Offensive fireworks expected as FIU Panthers open C-USA play against Louisiana Tech

Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech scores a touchdown against FIU on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at FIU Stadium.
Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech scores a touchdown against FIU on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at FIU Stadium. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The last time FIU and Louisiana Tech saw each other, they combined for 30 points in front of about as many fans at FIU Stadium in 2013. Saturday, they might combine for 30 points each half before a packed Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, Louisiana.

Or they might keep it under 40 again, if the defenses reveal each offense’s improved looks to be more good makeup from bad opposition.

Either way, don’t expect FIU’s Conference USA opener to be two teams trading 3-yards-and-a bunch-of-fake-grass-rubber-pellets.

“I think both teams have gotten better, both teams have improved from two years ago (when FIU lost 23-7),” LA Tech coach Skip Holtz said at his Monday media session.

FIU coach Ron Turner agreed in his analysis of how the Bulldogs have changed.

“Lot better. More experienced. They were young then. A lot of those young guys have grown up,” Turner said. “A lot more confident, lot more explosive. They’re good, not a whole lot of weaknesses.”

The raw numbers say settle in for one of those games where the offenses flow as steadily as seafood soups at a Louisiana tailgate and the ball’s in the air as often as the humidity.

47 Combined completions per game averaged by FIU quarterback Alex McGough & LA Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel

LA Tech averages 539.3 yards and 44.3 points per game, each 16th in the nation, fueled mainly by the No. 11 passing offense. The arm of that offense averaging 350.3 yards per game belongs to University of Florida transfer Jeff Driskel, thrower of seven touchdowns against only one interception.

“Jeff has not put a ball in danger in three football games,” Holtz said. “He threw that one deep ball to Paul Turner, which I thought was a great ball, against Western Kentucky. The defender made a phenomenal play, but it was a one-on-one jump ball. He had six throwaways Saturday [against Kansas State]. It is very unselfish. He knows he cannot hold it, so if it is not there, he puts it in the third row. You live to play another down. I think that is the experience coming out in him.”

Driskel’s success months after walking into a new offense ties greatly to that offense already including All-Conference USA running back Kenneth Dixon, now at 65 career touchdowns, eighth in college-affiliated football history. Though the old joke about the Chicago Bears Walter Payton playbook — Walter run right, Walter run left, pass to Walter — no longer applies to LA Tech and Dixon, his presence keeps defenses honest.

An era of offensive skill players raised as much on spring and summer seven-on-seven tournaments as 11-on-11 fall Friday nights doesn’t change most defense’s instinctive desire to stop the run first. FIU’s no different. Every player on a defense allowing only 96.3 yards per game, whether cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, or hand in the dirt guys such as senior defensive end Michael Wakefield, mentions stopping the run first.

Meanwhile, FIU averages 429.0 yards per game and sophomore quarterback Alex McGough’s 23.7 completions per game ranks 13th nationally.

“We’re running a lot of what we want to run. We’ve still got some things we can continue to do,” Turner said. “There’s still times I want to call something and I don’t call it. That was the case 99 percent of the time the first time, 85 percent of the time last year, probably 15 percent of the time this year.”

That’s a workable, manageable number.”

Many of the offensive numbers involving these two teams are better than that. But today might be the best defense each faces after three games of stat-fattening ice cream.

Each pummeled its FCS paid punching bag, FIU over North Carolina Central 39-14 last week and Louisiana Tech going point-a-minute on Southern, 62-14. Louisiana Tech put up 38 points in a loss to Western Kentucky, which plays as if its defensive philosophy is hoping opponents trip in the open field. Last week’s LA Tech loss to Kansas State included extra time — in triplicate — for yards and points.

Repeated lousy field position meant FIU rolled up yards, not points, on Central Florida, a stunningly collapsing 0-3 with a loss to FCS school Furman. And the Panthers’ best opponent thus far, Indiana, gives up 544.3 yards per game.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

Saturday: FIU at La. Tech

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.; Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, La.

TV/radio: FCS; WNMA 1210.

Favorite: La. Tech by 14.

Records: FIU 2-1 (0-0 C-USA); La. Tech 1-2 (0-1 C-USA).

Series: La. Tech leads 1-0.

FIU injuries: Doubtful — DB Wilkenson Myrtil (concussion). Questionable — WR Juwan Caesar (knee). Out — S Shermarke Spence (arm); WR Shawn Abrams (undisclosed); RB Napoleon Maxwell (ACL); OL Jordan Budwig (shoulder).

La. Tech injuries: Questionable — WR Paul Turner (hamstring); OL Cam Manning (undisclosed); OL Kirby Wixson (shoulder).

PROBABLE FIU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Alex McGough

So.

DE

11

Denzell Perrine

Sr.

RB

1

Alex Gardner

So.

DT

44

Darrian Dyson

Sr.

WR

14

Dennis Turner

So.

DT

93

Imarjaye Albury

Jr.

WR

81

Thomas Owens

So.

DE

55

Michael

Wakefield

Sr.

TE

80

Ya’Keem Griner

Sr.

LB

53

Anthony Wint

So.

TE

87

Jonnu Smith

Jr.

LB

52

Treyvon Williams

Jr.

LT

78

Dieugot Joseph

Jr.

LB

29

Vontarius West

So.

LG

70

Aaron Nielsen

Sr.

CB

3

Richard Leonard

Sr.

C

64

Michael Montero

Jr.

CB

7

Jeremiah

McKinnon

Sr.

RG

73

Trenton Saunders

Jr.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

So.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

Fr.

S

38

Tyree Johnson

Fr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Jr.

P

16

Chris Ayers

Jr.

PROBABLE LA. TECH STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

6

Jeff Driskel

Sr.

DE

50

Deldrick Canty

So.

RB

28

Kenneth Dixon

Sr.

DT

98

Aaron Brown

Jr.

WR

1

Carlos Henderson

So.

DT

9

Vernon Butler

Sr.

WR

5

Trent Taylor

Jr.

DE

8

Vontarrius Dora

Sr.

WR

3

Paul Turner

Sr.

LB

6

Beau Fitte

Sr.

TE

33

Ricky Jones

Sr.

LB

24

Nick Thomason

Sr.

LT

75

Darrell Brown

Jr.

LB

29

C.J. Cleveland

Sr.

LG

74

O’Shea Dugas

Fr.

CB

15

Bryson Abraham

Sr.

C

55

David Mahaffey

Jr.

CB

21

Adarius Barnes

Sr.

RG

68

Josh Robinson

Sr.

S

23

Kentrell Brice

Sr.

RT

77

Jens Danielsen

Sr.

S

7

Xavier Woods

Jr.

PK

10

Jonathan Barnes

So.

P

28

Gerald Shouse

Sr.

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