FIU Panthers (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) vs Charlotte 49ers (4-6, 3-3 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 17, 2:00 PM
TV: ESPN3 (Play-By-Play: Bobby Rosinski, Analyst: Jay Sonnhalter, Sidelines: Libby Weihsmann-Clark)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts, Analyst:Kenny Kelly)/ Charlotte IMG Network/730 The Game (Play-By-Play: Matt Swierad, Analyst: Al Wallace, Sidelines: Walker Mehl)
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Line: FIU -5.5 O/U 47.5
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads, 3-0 (FIU won last match-up 30-29 in 2017)
With two games left in the regular season, FIU has put themselves in position to control their own destiny.
Two wins and they’re Conference USA’s East division champions. Anything short of that means they’ll need to depend on MTSU to decide their fate.
It starts with a late-season visit to face a surprising Charlotte team who are fighting for their bowl lives.
James Morgan’s ascent to the top of the FIU single-season passing touchdown mark concluded last week in San Antonio. The Bowling Green transfer has now thrown 24 touchdown passes this season, eclipsing Alex McGough’s mark of 21 in the first quarter of their 45-7 victory over UTSA.
He’ll face a more formidable Charlotte defense, but since an opening week loss to Indiana, Morgan has been in the top-10 in passer rating among FBS signal-callers.
He’s been most lethal this season when given time to throw and establish an early rhythm in games.
C.J. Worton leads the Panthers in receiving yards and catches. However, Bryce Singleton has come on strong after an early season injury and will see his share of targets.
Head coach Butch Davis and defensive coordinator Brent Guy made it clear that something had to change after FIU gave up almost 400 yards rushing to FAU in 49-14 loss two weeks ago.
The defense responded with a season high four interceptions, four sacks and held 75 yards rushing from running backs in the UTSA win.
They’ll be facing a more potent rushing attack in Conference USA’s third leading rusher Ben Lemay.
Their ability to stop the dynamic back will play a pivotal factor in whether FIU can leave Charlotte with a victory.
Brad Lambert entered this season with some speculation that this might be his last season as the 49er head coach. While on paper, a 4-6 record doesn’t seem noteworthy, there’s no doubt that his team has exceeded most prognostications.
The fact of the matter is this team could easily be 6-4, if not for a couple of injuries.
Running back Ben Lemay has been one of the best players in C-USA all season long. He’s third in the conference with 896 yards and has added another 232 as a receiver.
He’ll face an FIU run defense that hasn’t performed well against high-caliber running backs. If Charlotte has any chance of pulling off the upset, it’ll depend on the legs of Lemay.
Both Evan Sherreffs and Hasaan Klugh will see time at the quarterback position on Saturday. However, neither player has been able to replicate the success that Chris Reynolds had before he broke his ankle against Western Kentucky.
They don’t have to throw for 300 yards to be competitive. But they must protect the football and find ways to get the ball into the hands of capable wideouts Rico Arnold and Victor Tucker.
The biggest surprise this season for Charlotte may have been the defense. They lead C-USA in run defense allowing a stingy 88.5 yards per game. The pass defense has been solid as well ranking sixth in the conference.
Safety Ben DeLuca and linebacker Juwan Foggie head the group. DeLuca leads the team in tackles, while Foggie leads in interceptions with six on the season.
If they can rattle Morgan early and provide enough chances for its offense, this contest could easily be a one-score ballgame in the fourth quarter.
Expect James Morgan to spread the ball around early and often.
The key will be the FIU run game. This offense is at its best when their stable of running backs opens up the passing game.
If Charlotte can play up to its season averages and force an early turnover, this one will be a tight contest into the fourth quarter.
However, the 49ers without Reynolds just don’t have enough of a passing attack to keep up with the Panthers.
FIU 24 Charlotte 14