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FAU vs FIU Preview: Shula Bowl!

Anxiety abounds in the Shula Bowl. Who will start conference play with a win?

NCAA Football: Florida International at Florida Atlantic Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Start time: Saturday, October 1, 7:00 PM ET

Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, Florida

Betting line: FAU -6.5, Over/Under 53

All-Time Series lead: FAU leads 10-3


FIU Outlook

FIU fired Ron Turner last week and interim head coach Ron Cooper takes over a team full of question marks with not many capable answers. Alex McGough was benched last week in favor of Maurice Alexander against UCF and Alexander didn’t seem to be the answer, going 6-14 for 41 yards with an interception.

Cooper has been mum on who will be the starting quarterback in the Shula Bowl but my guess is that it will be McGough due to his experience. No matter who’s the quarterback, FAU fans will see some familiar names at the skill position as Alex Gardner and Thomas Owens are the Golden Panther’s best athletes in an otherwise bad offense.

FIU’s offense ranks near the bottom in nearly every advanced stat metric except for Rushing IsoPP where they rank 57th. Gardner has rushed for 288 yards and three touchdowns this year and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Expect to see an offense that features Gardner heavily Saturday night.

Although the Golden Panthers are a mess offensively, their defense is in a much better place. Similar to FAU, they don’t give up explosive plays. They rank 55th in IsoPP, and a really good 28th in Rushing IsoPP. Passing IsoPP they rank 97th so if they do allow big plays, it mainly comes through the air.

Their Havoc Rate, an advanced metric that measures how frequently a defense causes a negative play is pretty decent among their linebackers so if there is a sack, or tackle for loss caused, look for it to come by at the hands of Treyvon Williams (4 TFL, 3 sacks) or Anthony Wint (2.5 TFL). Williams and Wint are by far FIU’s best defensive players.

FAU Outlook

The Owls are coming off yet another one of their patented close losses, this time at the hands of Ball State. They lost another offensive linemen as Tarrick Thomas is done for the year but Kelly Parfitt and Roman Fernandez are expected to return.

Jason Driskel was decent against Ball State throwing for 324 yards with one touchdown and one interception and even added a rushing touchdown. Ball State stacked the box to stuff the run and for the most part their strategy worked as they dared Driskel to beat them. I expect Cooper to employ the same strategy.

Against FIU, Driskel is going to have opportunities against a secondary that has allowed every quarterback they’ve faced this season to have success. Kalib Woods, Nate Terry, and Kamrin Solomon will have their opportunities and I expect at least one of them to have great day in the Shula Bowl.

Defensively this is another matchup where the Owls are going to see a lot of runs. FIU hasn’t done anything on offense with much success but what they have tried to do is establish Alex Gardner and run play action. Against Maryland, Indiana, and UCF their offensive line failed to get a push so they abandoned the running game early. But against UMass, the line did it’s job and Gardner rushed for 130 yards.

It’s hard to believe, but FAU’s defensive line is comparable to UMass and after allowing 226 rushing yards with 5.5 yards per carry against Ball State, “equal competition,” it’s safe to say the run defense is going to be an issue all season.

Prediction

FIU is going to come out fired up in the Shula Bowl and FAU needs to be ready to match their emotion. It’s the conference opener for both team so either squad could use this win for momentum to kickstart the second part of the season.

Partridge is 1-1 in the Shula Bowl and suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of FIU in Miami two seasons ago. I was there, and it was easily the worst game I have ever attended. Easily, there were more FAU fans than FIU fans and even after the lightning delay those who bussed from Boca Raton to Miami still stayed to root for FAU in what was otherwise an empty stadium because that’s how FIU fans roll.

It was by far the most proudest moment as a student to see FAU fans outnumber FIU fans and it didn’t matter. FAU got destroyed, 38-10 Golden Panthers. Driving back on I-95 at two in the morning I thought that there would be no way the football program would reach those depths again.

Losing to this FIU team would be worse.

FAU will not lose this game because Charlie Partridge can not afford to or he will lose the fan base completely. Partridge picks up his third road win at FAU as the Owls use a defensive stand near the goal line and win 28-21.