Rice (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) vs FIU (4-2, 2-0 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 20, 7:30 PM
TV: ESPN+ (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts, Analyst: Kenny Kelly)
Radio: 610 WIOD (Chris Wittyngham)/ KFNC Sportsmap 94.1 (Play-By-Play: J.P. Heath, Analyst: Nate Griffin, Sideline: Matt Pedersen)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -23.5 O/U 53.5
All-Time Series Record: Tied 1-1 (FIU won last match-up 13-7 in 2017)
Florida International head coach Butch Davis routinely preaches that his teams need to be playing their best football as the season hits conference play.
Coming off of their thrilling 24-21 victory over C-USA rival Middle Tennessee State, it appears as if his Panthers are doing just that.
Quarterback James Morgan is coming off of the best game of his career. He went 27-36 for 311 yards and threw two touchdowns and his 14 TD passes are the most by a Panther signal-caller ever in a six game span.
FIU’s offense should continue hitting their stride against a Rice team that’s given up over 40 points in five of their seven contests this season. Expect the dynamic rushing attack to rebound after an sub-par outing against the Blue Raiders.
Also, kicker Jose Borregales continues to be a valuable weapon, hitting 3 of 4 field goal attempts last week, including a school-record 53-yarder.
On the defensive side of the ball, FIU put together its most complete performance against MTSU. Texas transfer Edwin Freeman had 10 tackles including two tackles for loss and the FIU pass defense held MTSU to under 150 yards through the air.
They’ll have every opportunity to build on that success against the struggling Owls offense that will be starting former walk-on Evan Marshman at quarterback Saturday night.
For Mike Bloomgren and Rice, the season as gone in the wrong direction after their season-opening win versus FCS Prairie View A&M.
They were competitive in losses against Houston and Hawaii. However, the last four games haven’t been close and the offense has been held to a field goal in the last 120 minutes.
Their task will only get tougher as Vanderbilt transfer Shawn Stankavage has been ruled out with a foot injury. The former walk-on in Marshman went 6-16 in his collegiate debut and will be saddled with trying to get the Owls offense in the end-zone for the first time in three weeks.
The Owls best opportunity to compete with FIU will be on the ground.
Talented backs Austin Walter and Emmanuel Esukpa are both averaging over four yards a carry and the Panther run defense has given up an average of 185.3 yards per game.
Defensively, Rice will have a tall task in trying to stop a red-hot Morgan and the unit isn’t helped by an offense that is among the worst in the nation in converting third-downs.
FIU is in the driver’s seat to win Conference USA’s East division. What they can’t afford is a slip-up against a Rice team that’s just looking to make an improvement in Mike Bloomgren’s initial campaign as head coach.
Esupka and Walter are capable backs who have a chance to make plays against the Panther run defense that gave up over 100 yards to an FCS back earlier this season. However, the FIU offense is firing on all cylinders.
Expect big days from Napoleon Maxwell and Shawndarrius Phillips which will allow Morgan to find his rhythm and continuing playing the best football of his career.
FIU 48 Rice 13