Date: Friday, November 23rd
Start Time: 7 PM ET
TV: BEIN Sports
The Series: WKU leads the all-time series 6-4. The Tops have won their last four meetings, including last season when Tops’ running back Anthony Wales went off with 12 carries for 111 yards and four touchdowns. FIU’s most recent win in the series was in 2010 under Mario Cristobal.
The FIU Panthers (6-4, 4-3 in C-USA) are playing some of the best football the program has ever seen. Even in the midst of a two game losing streak, they held their own in a 52-24 loss to east division champion FAU last week and just barely let it slip away in a 37-30 loss to Old Dominion the week before.
Statistically, the Panthers are a pretty “middle of the road” team. They are tenth in the league in scoring offense and eighth in scoring defense with a ranking of eight in total offense and seventh in total defense. Against the Western offense, they’ll need to turn in their best day of the year defending the pass.
Mike White and his receiving corps have tried to make up for WKU’s complete lack of a run game by putting up more passing yards than anyone else in C-USA (3649) along with the second most passing touchdowns (23). Senior receiver Nacarius Fant came alive in the Tops’ last game, a triple OT win against Middle Tennessee. The Bowling Green native had a career day with 14 catches and 101 receiving yards, plus a touchdown.
For the Panthers, quarterback Alex McGough has been top five in the league in passing yards per game, total passing yards, and total completions. WKU’s defense, however has managed to allow just 196.5 yards per game through the air. So that aspect of FIU’s game will need to be on point, although Middle Tennessee were able to put up 294 on the Tops last week. The veteran defensive back corps of WKU will now doubt want to turn in an improved performance in what will be the final regular season game for some of them.
I think the X factor in this game will end up being FIU running back Alex Gardner. Through ten games, he’s had 634 rushing yards (ninth highest total in C-USA) with four touchdowns. Both defenses in this game are pretty average at defending the run, but FIU has a much better offensive line. If they can utilize their run game to put together some longer, sustained drives to keep Mike White off of the field, that will give them their best chance for victory.
These teams are very evenly matched. FIU has shown that they are much better than years past while, while WKU has proved to be the opposite. That being said, I think the explosive capability of the Western Kentucky offense is too much to ignore. Tops win 28-21.