FAU (3-5, 1-3 C-USA) vs FIU (6-2, 4-0 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 3, 7:30 PM
TV: Stadium (Play-By-Play: Chris Hassel, Analyst: A.J. Hawk, Sidelines: Kristen Balboni)
Radio: 610 WIOD (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts, Analyst:Kenny Kelly)/ ESPN West Palm Beach 106.3 (Play-By-Play: Ken LaVicka, Analyst: Kris Bartel, Sideline: Brian Rowitz)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -3 O/U 59
All-Time Series Record: 11-5 FAU leads (FAU won last match-up 52-24 in 2017)
The Panthers continue to lead Conference USA’s East division after a decisive 38-17 win over Western Kentucky.
However, they’ll head into their annual rivalry game with Florida Atlantic looking to make a statement that their 6-2 record is for real.
Most pre-season projections had these teams on opposite ends of the spectrum. FAU was the darling of G5 football while FIU was supposed to be facing a rebuild after losing many of its key players to graduation.
One reason FIU has exceeded expectations has been the play of quarterback James Morgan. The Bowling Green transfer leads Conference USA in passer rating and is on the verge of breaking the FIU single-season record for passing touchdowns (21).
FIU is ranked in the top-10 in third-down conversion percentage and distance needed to convert third-downs. Keeping that trend will be key in keeping FAU’s Devin Singletary off the field.
While Morgan has engineered one of the conference’s most dangerous offenses, the defense has improved weekly and is coming off its best performance last week.
Stantley Thomas-Oliver was given a game-ball by head coach Butch Davis after his seven tackle and one interception performance.
Thomas-Oliver was an all-freshman performer as a receiver in 2016, but switched to defensive back last year and the move is paying huge dividends for Brent Guy’s defense.
An area that FIU has been among the nation’s best is special teams.
The trio of kicker Jose Borregales, punter Stone Wilson and kickoff specialist Sean Young has been outstanding all year and should play a factor in deciding this game.
The Owls enter the Shula Bowl wounded, both mentally and physically. The Lane Train has come to a resounding halt this season as the team has failed to live up to preseason expectations. On the injury front FAU has seen their starting QB Chris Robison, their star LB and team captain Azeez Al-Shaair and receiver/punt returner Dante Cousart miss time and that’s just the last three weeks. Shaair and Cousart are both out for the season.
Devin Singletary remains the star of the offense, but receivers Willie Wright and Jovon Durante are both proven playmakers who stretch the field vertically. Of course, how many times Wright and Durante touch the ball and in what capacity will be the big question. Chris Robison has been abysmal on the road this season, as he’s passed for 658 yards with 2 touchdown and 8 interceptions. Lane Kiffin and Charlie Weis Jr. have loved to get Wright and Durante the ball on jet sweeps and I expect for that to continue, but if they are to really have a big game it’ll be because Robison was able to connect with his receivers down the field.
The stats don’t love FAU’s defense due to how poorly they started, but rest assured this unit has gotten better as the season has progressed. Rashad Smith continues to be a force at LB for the Owls and leads the team with 48.5 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 7 Run Stuffs. Former safety Andrew Soroh has filled in admirably for Al-Shaair and though he’s a bit undersized, he hits like a LB.
The biggest matchup for me when FIU has the ball is if FAU can limit FIU’s explosive rushing plays. When the Owls have the ball, I’ll be looking at FIU’s d-line versus FAU’s o-line, as the Panthers have a big advantage in the trenches.
Eric: Despite what the records say, I believe this one will be a tight contest heading into the fourth quarter. FAU has an elite rushing attack and FIU’s run defense while improved, still isn’t where Butch Davis would like it to be. However, I see James Morgan making enough plays against a surprisingly vulnerable Owls pass defense and the Panthers pull away in the late stages. FIU 33 FAU 27
Cyrus: FAU hasn’t won at FIU since 2009 when Howard Schnellenberger was the head coach. During the three-game losing streak they’ve had the more talented team twice. For the first time in a while, the Panthers actually have the better team. They are better in the trenches and they are better at quarterback. FAU keeps it close but FIU takes it on a game-winning field goal. FIU 31 FAU 28