Florida International U

FIU Panthers, Middle Tennessee mirror images as they prepare for matchup

FIU quarterback Alex McGough prepares to throw a pass against Middle Tennessee State last season.
FIU quarterback Alex McGough prepares to throw a pass against Middle Tennessee State last season. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

What late breakfast surprise will FIU and Middle Tennessee State present fans and college-affiliated football junkies Saturday?

Another blown gigantic lead, this time of 30 points? A triple-reverse pass that winds up a defensive touchdown? Dueling step shows?

Anything seems possible when two erratic teams with talent get together as FIU and Middle have proved. Standings importance sauces up the usual wackiness between the Sun Belt Conference migrants, now naturalized in Conference USA.

C-USA East leader Western Kentucky overwhelmed North Texas 55-28 last Thursday night as expected, putting the Hilltoppers at 4-0 in conference play. They’re a half-game up on Marshall, which is at FAU on Saturday.

Saturday’s Panthers-Blue Raiders loser will have two conference losses. Middle’s already down a head-to-head tiebreaker with Western, after last week’s 58-28 strafing in this year’s 100 Miles of Hate game.

“We talk about different scenarios,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “They know the standings. I show them the standings, which I always do. They know it’s a conference game, division games, and the rest of our games are.

“They know the importance of the game and going out and playing our game.”

In a way, the teams mirror each other.

FIU played Big Ten foe Indiana close before falling. Middle also just missed its’ chance to bag Power Five game, losing 27-25 to the Big Ten’s Illinois and 17-13 to SEC private school Vanderbilt. Each team entered last week with two-game losing streaks.

That’s where the mirror cracks. FIU clobbered hapless UTEP 52-12.

Saturday should be a wee bit closer. It tends to be when these two teams meet.

▪ 2010: With Middle up 28-27 and FIU driving with 2:38 left, Middle linebacker Corey Carmichael hit Panthers wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and caused what was ruled a fumble that Carmichael recovered at the Middle 27.

After video review some with FIU found suspiciously lengthy, the call stood. The Blue Raiders’ win made them bowl eligible and they accepted a GoDaddy.com Bowl bid the next day.

▪ 2012: FIU took a 20-3 second quarter lead then fell behind 27-23. Middle’s Benny Cunningham ran for an FIU opponent record 230 yards.

In the final 2:21, FIU took a 30-27 lead; Cunningham broke his leg; Middle took a 34-30 lead; Panthers quarterback Jake Medlock drove FIU 71 yards in 36 seconds, hitting Willis Wright with a 30-yard pass on the last play. Three Middle defenders kept Wright at the goal line, not officially across it.

▪ 2014: This time, Middle took the 21-3 second quarter lead and led 21-10 when FIU cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon recovered a Middle fumble in the end zone. Tight end Jonnu Smith caught a Hail Mary to end the half, then scooped up teammate Napoleon Maxwell’s fumble to score early in the second half. A Davison Colimon interception return continued the 28-point swing on the way to a 38-28 win.

The Blue Raiders wound up barely bowl eligible and remained home for the holidays. That stunning loss got the blame.

Middle safety Kevin Byard dismissed it as a source of motivation.

“There’s more motivation because we need to get back on track,” Byard said. “I’m not really concerned about last year. I’m concerned about the things we need to fix this year.”

FIU hopes it got its fixing done last week. Saturday will show if the Panthers maintained the same focus or got a little too happy over last week. They would do well to heed the words of sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens, as he was describing why this year’s success wouldn’t go to his head.

“Humble is the key,” Owens said. “Never go out of that. Always stay humble. When you start getting a big head, that’s when things go downwards and you don’t want that to happen.”

Especially when playing Middle.

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

Saturday: FIU at Middle Tennessee

Kickoff: Noon; Horace Jones Field at Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

TV/radio: FSFL; WNMA 1210.

Favorite: Middle Tennessee by 11.

Records: FIU 3-3 (1-1 C-USA); Middle Tennessee 2-4 (1-1 C-USA).

Series: Middle Tennessee leads 6-3.

FIU injuries: Questionable — DE Fermin Silva (leg); WR Juwan Caesar (knee); WR Dennis Turner (concussion); DB Wilkenson Myrtil (concussion); DB Jordan Davis (knee); DB Niko Gonzalez (stinger); LB Treyvon Williams (knee). Out — LB Davison Colimon (pectoral); S Shermarke Spence (arm); RB Napoleon Maxwell (ACL); OL Jordan Budwig (shoulder).

Middle Tennessee injuries: Questionable — RB Jordan Parker (undisclosed); RB Shane Tucker (undisclosed); S Xavier Walker (undisclosed). Out — OL Adam Stickel (knee); DB Nick Beasley (knee).

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

74

Lars Koht

Sr.

WR

14

Dennis Turner

So.

DT

93

Imarjaye Albury

Jr.

WR

81

Thomas Owens

So.

DE

55

M. 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

79

Kai Absheer

Fr.

CB

3

Richard Leonard

Sr.

C

64

Michael Montero

Jr.

CB

7

J. McKinnon

Sr.

RG

73

Trenton Saunders

Jr.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

So.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

Fr.

S

38

Wilkenson Myrtil

Jr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Jr.

P

6

Stone Wilson

Fr.

PROBABLE MIDDLE TENNESSEE STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Brent Stookstill

Fr.

DE

49

Steven Rhodes

Jr.

RB

6

Jordan Parker

Sr.

DT

92

Patrick McNeil

Sr.

FB

46

Corey McCarron

Sr.

DT

51

Shaquille Huff

Jr.

WR

80

Ed Batties

Sr.

DE

59

Chris Hale

Jr.

WR

87

Richie James

Fr.

LB

8

Trey Wafford

Sr.

TE

84

Terry Pettis

Jr.

LB

24

Cavellis Luckett

Sr.

LT

73

Chandler Brewer

Fr.

LB

38

T.T. Barber

Sr.

LG

54

Jaylen Hunter

Sr.

CB

9

Jeremy Cutrer

Jr.

C

63

Josh Chester

Jr.

CB

4

Jared Singletary

Jr.

RG

66

Daniel Stephens

Jr.

FS

42

Xavier Walker

Sr.

RT

56

Marquice Shakir

Jr.

SS

20

Kevin Byard

Sr.

PK

87

Cody Clark

Jr.

P

43

Trevor Owens

Fr.

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