FIU comes off their bye week at 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the conference. This week, the Golden Panthers face off against last season's conference champion, Rice. The Owls started off poorly, going 0-3, but have since rebounded to win their next four straight. One thing Rice has not seen in that four game stretch is a strong defense and FIU comes in to this week's matchup at 38 in Defensive F/+. While many residents of Miami have absolutely no idea about Rice, I decided to draw some comparisons to something that everyone in the 305 knows about: rice.
Michael Wakefield / Paella
Right off the bat, paella is a personal favorite of mine. Mike Wakefield, the FIU junior defensive end leading the team in tackles for loss with 9, compares to the Spanish rice dish in many ways. No matter what you put in your paella, whether it is seafood, chicken or even rabbit, it is going to be elevated by the mix of flavors. Wakefield has lined up with teammates such as Denzell Perine, Giovani Francois and Lars Koht, and every time, the FIU defensive front has risen to the occasion en route to 21 sacks on the year. I'm fairly convinced that if I lined up on the FIU defensive line I would be able to get through to the quarterback on every play. Imagine that. Me - on the D-line - slipping through untouched, running with my arms flailed to the sky, screamed lines of source code. Wait. Where was I? Right, rice.
Jonnu Smith / Arroz con Frijoles Negros
Ahh, the ol' Miami staple. Arroz con frijoles. This is all-time consistency. Go anywhere in Miami and order black beans and rice. I can guarantee that it will not disappoint. Just like Jonnu Smith, this is an essential part of every dish and cannot be overlooked. Smith already has 34 catches for 411 yards and four touchdowns. While FIU is still searching for their true deep threat, the offense always run through Jonnu in the middle and he has been crucial to the development of quarterback Alex McGough. Just like rice and beans were crucial to my dinner last night.
Richard Leonard / Rice Pilaf
No one wants this dish. Rice pilaf, on any menu, is avoided at all costs. But one day, you rummage through the cabinet and all you find is a box of instant rice pilaf from some basic brand like Rice-a-roni and it's forced upon your palate. Richard Leonard, while his actual performances are more comparable to the dopest sushi roll you've ever eaten, is like rice pilaf. You avoid his side when you have the ball and when you're kicking off, you make it a point to never go his way. His game-changing outbursts are inevitable and every time you put the ball near him you'll remember why you always hated rice pilaf.
Driphus Jackson / Arroz con Pollo
Don't get me wrong. Arroz con pollo can be great. But think back to the last time you had it. It was probably around 2:31 PM, on a Tuesday, from your local Pollo Tropical. You were forced into a late lunch and had to scramble for the fastest respectable dish and all that seemed promising was this overcooked arroz con pollo. Now, I won't harp on this feverous shade I'm throwing Jackson any longer, because he has been pretty good this season with 1,418 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Rice's quarterback situation is clearly on the downswing after Taylor McHargue and FIU's defense should be able to slow down Driphus and the Owl receivers (aka Jordan Taylor).
Christian Covington and Brian Nordstrom / Shrimp Creole
Unfortunately for my life, creole dishes haven't really taken over South Florida yet. My limited exposure to their existence and taste has always left me clamoring for more. Covington and Nordstrom represent a Rice defense that has really come into form as of late. With Nordstrom leading the way at 10 tackles for loss and Covington drawing the attention of every offensive coordinator this side of the Group of 5, the Owl defensive line is a true melting pot of talents. Celery, sacks, shrimp, weak-side blitzes, peppers, or tackles for loss. Whatever you throw in this pot (with a lot of Tony Chachere's for good measure) will taste delicious and pack a punch.
This Rice team started off poorly, with three straight losses. The dissatisfaction resulting from their performance could probably be compared to the carton of white rice you receive with your General Tso's chicken. While that rice is stupidly bland, unless you pound it with duck sauce, it really shines when you reheat it at a later date and mix it with other meats. The Owls reeled off four straight wins following that poor start and their "microwavability" is at an all-time high right now. With the Panthers coming off a bye and staring bowl eligibility straight in the face, this week's matchup could be *delicious*.