Start Time: 12:00 PM. Saturday, November 7.
Location: Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, Miami, Florida
TV: American Sports Network
Live Stats: Here
Line: FIU -18.5. Over/Under 50.
If FIU and Charlotte play and relatively no one is there to see it, did it really happen? Yes. It's really going to happen. Truthfully, tomorrow's matchup is a very important one for the Panthers' bowl hopes. At 4-5, it is the most winnable game left on FIU's schedule. After the 49ers, the Panthers go to Marshall and close out the regular season at home against Western Kentucky. That means if the Panthers want to become bowl eligible, they're going to have to pull off at least one upset. But before they cross that bridge, they have to take care of business against Charlotte.
The Panthers come into this one on the heels of their worst performance of the season, losing 31-17 to a really bad FAU team. The fact that the Owls are also the Panthers' biggest rival only makes it worse.
But that game is over, and now FIU must try to pick up the pieces.
They must start with the offense. The Panthers gained only 262 yards against FAU and turned the ball over twice. QB Alex McGough was 17 of 29 for 196 yards and a touchdown, but fumbled the ball away on FIU's first possession and threw an interception. Turnovers and negative plays killed the Panthers, as McGough was sacked seven times. Alex Gardner leads the rushing attack 68.8 yards per game and six touchdowns on the year. McGough's favorites targets are Gardner, Thomas Owens (44 receptions, 547 yards, 7TD) and Jonnu Smith (36 receptions, 397 yards, 4TD). The offense has struggled lately, largely because the offensive line has been a sieve. If the offense is going to improve, it has to start with the line.
At least FIU's defense is nasty. They've allowed 172 rushing yards per game and 221 passing yards per game and are holding opponents to 23.56 points per game. The Panthers have 14 sacks on the year, led by Denzel Perrine (4 sacks) and Michael Wakefield (3.5 sacks). Jeremiah McKinnon has been a ball hawk in the secondary, leading the team with three picks.
Well, the 49ers have lost eight in a row. That's the bad news. The worse news is that they've hardly looked competitive during the losing streak. Marshall waxed them last week 34-10, rolling up 630 total yards, 494 through the air. FIU isn't nearly the offensive team Marshall is, but at this point, it doesn't really matter. Not only is the 49er defense a mess, the offense struggles to move the ball and put points on the board. Charlotte is averaging a paltry 16.9 points per game, and just 8.8 points per game against teams that aren't Georgia State, Presbyterian or Old Dominion. The 49ers were competitive against those three teams and way overmatched against everyone else.
Charlotte's quarterback situation has done nothing to sort itself out in recent weeks, as both Lee McNeill and Matt Johnson have failed to make any noticeable progress. McNeill took most of the snaps against the Herd, finishing 17 of 32 for only 131 yards and one interception. Johnson went 2 for 3 in mop up duty. The 49ers best (only) weapon continues to be running back Kalif Phillips. Phillips ran 23 times for 99 yards and Charlotte's lone score against Marshall. Now, he'll have to try to fight his way through a Panther defense geared to stop him. WR Austin Duke, who caught 8 passes for only 39 yards against Marshall, will be called on to try to take some pressure off Phillips and the running game.
At least things won't be so bad defensively this week for the 49ers. No matter how limited the Panthers are offensively, they should have no problem against a Charlotte defense that is giving up 407 yards per game and 34 points per game. Nick Cook and Zach Duncan lead the defense in tackles and sacks, respectively, with Cook totaling 52 tackles on the year and Duncan notching three sacks. Larry Ogunjobi has nine tackles for a loss on the year, and figures to find himself in the Panthers' backfield on many occasions tomorrow night.
FIU absolutely needs this one, and Charlotte isn't in any position to stop them from taking it. Both teams are struggling, but with a more than capable defense going up against a 49er offense that seemingly can't do anything right, FIU will come out on top in this one.
FIU 24 - Charlotte 7