Florida International U

FIU Panthers face high-scoring Western Kentucky with bowl eligibility on the line

“We are going to have to get the run game going and control the time of possession,” said FIU coach Ron Turner, speaking with quarterback Alex McGough at practice.
“We are going to have to get the run game going and control the time of possession,” said FIU coach Ron Turner, speaking with quarterback Alex McGough at practice. El Nuevo Herald

On Saturday, 18 seniors will face Western Kentucky in their final regular-season game for FIU. Whether or not Senior Day doubles as their last college game overall could rely on six of those seniors.

A win and FIU becomes bowl eligible with at least three nearby Conference USA-connected bowls — the Miami Beach Bowl, St. Petersburg Bowl and Popeyes Bahamas Bowl — feeling warmly toward the Panthers. A loss and lockers get cleaned out.

Western Kentucky averages 41.8 points and 521.8 yards per game, mostly because the Conference USA East Division leaders throw the ball — well. So well that senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, a North Broward Prep graduate, is a semifinalist for both the Maxwell (college player of the year) and Davey O’Brien (best quarterback) awards while wide receiver Taywan Taylor is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (best college wide receiver). They start piling up their 374.6 yards per game early.

“You look at their games and you look at the clock, they are ahead by a lot and it’s still in the second quarter,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “When they are ahead by a lot, they turn it down a little bit. Most of their games have been that way. It’s been incredible. You look 30 plays into it and they have 40 points.”

Preventing what coaches like to call “chunk plays” starts with the pass rush, and that starts with FIU senior defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine. But prime discomfort for quarterbacks is pressure up the middle, where seniors Darrian Dyson and Lars Koht work alongside redshirt juniors Leonard Washington and Imarjaye Albury.

Now would be a good time for FIU to find wherever the Panthers lost their pass rush. Nine sacks over the past five games looks mediocre enough before you realize that seven of those sacks came against sad-sack Charlotte.

Without a pass rush, even more pressure falls on senior cornerbacks Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon, who have tried to provide leadership and stability in a secondary that’s changed like a turning kaleidoscope.

That’s similar to the offensive line. Six combinations have started and, recently, injuries to junior Jonnu Smith and senior Ya’Keem Griner reduced FIU’s use of double-tight end sets. The three-wide receiver, single-tight end sets the Panthers increasingly relied on the past two weeks used senior Akil Dan-Fodio as the lone tight end.

“We are going to have to get the run game going and control the time of possession,” Turner said. “Akil has done a great job stepping in. He’s more of a receiving tight end. That was his role. Now all of a sudden, he’s forced into the tight end position. So that’s been the challenge running the ball the last couple weeks without really a true fullback or tight end. It is going to be important. We are going to have to be able to run the ball, and I believe we have a good plan to do so. But we just have to run our offense. Get first downs, hold onto it and score when we have our opportunities.”

When it comes to scoring, FIU has tended to be bullies this season, piling up wins and statistics against weaker teams and struggling against teams with winning records. They did put up 22 points on Indiana and were 2 yards from a game-tying touchdown. And against Middle Tennessee, FIU reached the 2-yard line four times, scored touchdowns only twice yet still put up 34 points.

“I think FIU is a good football team. They haven’t lost at home — they are 4-0 at home. So, they definitely know how to play in their stadium, in their environment, in their element,” Western coach Jeff Brohm said. “I think they are going to be a little angry at the way they played last week [a 52-0 loss to Marshall]. There’s a lot riding on this game for them. They want to become bowl-eligible, and they have to win this game to do that. We have to understand that they are going to do everything in their power to win, and we’ve got to find a way to match that and play even better.”

Saturday: Western Kentucky at FIU

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.; Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium.

TV/radio: No TV; WNMA 1210.

Favorite: Western Kentucky by 17.

Records: Western Kentucky 8-2 (6-0 Conference USA); FIU 5-6 (3-4 C-USA).

Series: Tied 4-4.

FIU injuries: Questionable — TE Jonnu Smith (knee). Out — TE Ya’Keem Griner (foot); LB Davison Colimon (pectoral); S Shermarke Spence (arm); RB Napoleon Maxwell (ACL); OL Jordan Budwig (shoulder).

Western Kentucky injuries: Questionable — TE Tyler Higbee (knee). Out — DB Wonderful Terry (ankle); RB Leon Allen (knee); OL Matt Nord (foot).

PROBABLE FIU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

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

87

Jonnu Smith

Jr.

LB

53

Anthony Wint

So.

TE

11

Akil Dan-Fodio

Sr.

LB

34

Jephete Matilus

Sr.

LT

78

Dieugot Joseph

Jr.

LB

29

Vontarius West

So.

LG

69

Chris Miller

Fr.

CB

3

Richard Leonard

Sr.

C

64

M. Montero

Jr.

CB

7

J. McKinnon

Sr.

RG

79

Kai Absheer

Fr.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

So.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

Fr.

S

31

Tyree Johnson

Fr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Jr.

P

6

Stone Wilson

Fr.

PROBABLE WESTERN KENTUCKY STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Brandon Doughty

Gr.

DE

72

Derik Overstreet

So.

RB

20

Anthony Wales

Jr.

DT

3

Jontavius Morris

Sr.

WR

21

Jared Dangerfield

Sr.

DT

94

Bryan Shorter

Sr.

WR

15

Nicholas Norris

Jr.

DE

88

Gavin Rocker

Sr.

WR

2

Taywan Taylor

Jr.

LB

6

TJ McCollum

So.

TE

86

Tim Gorski

Sr.

LB

10

Nick Holt

Sr.

LT

76

Forrest Lamp

Jr.

LB

13

Nick Newton

Sr.

LG

51

Brandon Ray

So.

CB

23

De’Andre Simmons

So.

C

70

Max Halpin

Jr.

CB

30

P.C. Iworah

Sr.

RG

79

Joe Manley

Jr.

S

31

Branden Leston

Jr.

RT

62

Darrell Williams

Jr.

S

8

Marcus Ward

Jr.

PK

56

Garrett Schwettman

Sr.

P

49

Jake Collins

Fr.

  Comments