Charlotte 49ers (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) vs FIU Panthers (2-3, 0-2 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 12th, 7:00 PM
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts & Analyst: Kenny Kelly)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket (Play-By-Play: Josh White/Analyst: Cameron Lynch)/WZGV 730 The Game Charlotte 49ers IMG Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Matt Swierad/ Analyst: Al Wallace/Sideline: Bobby Rosinski)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -5.5 (O/U 61)
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 4-0 (FIU won last matchup 42-35 in 2018)
The Panthers are coming off a 44-0 thrashing of UMass in which for the first time in 2019, they looked like the C-USA east contenders that many projected them to be entering this season.
Butch Davis’ defense recorded only the second shutout in the 18-year history of FIU football, allowing a program-low 115 yards of total offense, 38 of which were via the run.
The latter is especially noteworthy as FIU has struggled defending the run during Davis’ 2.5 year tenure as head coach.
His defensive unit has allowed a 100-yard rusher in 11 of the previous 18 contests dating back to the start of the 2018 season.
They’ll need to carry the momentum of their record-breaking performance into this weekend’s contest with Charlotte, as they’re facing the rusher who’s plagued them the most over the past two seasons - Niners’ running back Benny LeMay.
The Panthers’ secondary was excellent versus the Minutemen, intercepting UMass quarterback Michael Curtis twice and limiting him to 5 of 19 passing. Stantley Thomas-Oliver and Isaiah Brown blanketed receivers and Rishard Dames recorded his second pick of the year.
On offense, the numbers of quarterback James Morgan will stand out (19 for 31 with 263 yards and 2td’s), but the play of the offensive line deserves top billing. Redshirt freshman Lyndell Hudson Jr. made his first career start at right tackle and was praised by Davis and Morgan post-game.
“Lyndell did a phenomenal job stepping in, as did the entire offensive line,” said Morgan.
The unit as a whole paved the way for 541 yards of total offense, including 100-yard days for running back Anthony Jones and receiver Tony Gaiter IV. They’ll look to repeat last year’s performance against the 49ers, one that saw FIU gain 490 yards of offense against one of the top defenses in C-USA.
Lastly, don’t expect the dynamic Maurice Alexander to see many chances in the punt return game, following his dazzling 90-yard return for a score last week - his second in as many years against UMass. In last year’s contest, Alexander averaged 11.3 yards per return.
The 49ers are coming off of a much-needed week of rest following consecutive losses to Clemson and FAU. With that said, this feels like a must-win to keep Will Healy & co’s goals of making their first bowl game and winning the conference alive.
“We have to have a killer mindset,” said standout DE Alex Highsmith. “We’re going back to the basics.”
Reinstalling the entire defensive scheme is somewhat of a reality check coming in the sixth week of the season, but giving up 39.6 points per contest warrants just that.
Senior LB and signal-caller Jeff Gemmell returns to the starting lineup against the Panthers following re-injuring his ankle in the second quarter of the 45-27 loss to Florida Atlantic. Charlotte gave up 557 yards of total offense against the Owls, but with two weeks of rest and preparation for a familiar conference foe, I expect an improved showing on the defensive side of the ball.
The previous matchup between these two programs came in the Queen City on the 49ers senior day in 2018, and went on to be a 42-35 thriller coming down to the last possession. Benny LeMay carried 30 times for a whopping 159 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Victor Tucker snagged 4 catches for 115 yards. . A stat line the 49ers would love to recreate - just with a different final outcome.
Chris Reynolds struggled in his last outing (15-28 for 208 yards, 3TD’s and 2 interceptions), but the return of center Jaelin Fisher and left guard Dominic Taylor should firm up the offensive line. While I expect the game-plan to be run-first, there will be plenty of opportunities for play action and option plays to dissect the Panther defense.
Charlotte has had substantial success in the QB-run department with Reynolds being able to scramble and extend plays, as well as pull the ball and call his own number. This will be an extremely important facet of the offensive attack, understanding that Butch Davis’ number one priority will be slowing down LeMay.
Prediction & Final Score
Eric: The last two meetings between both teams have been decided by a mere eight points. Two dozen players across both teams have started in at least one of those games, meaning there’s plenty of familiarity between the two rosters.
Personally, I think this one comes down to the playmakers for both. I expect LeMay’s success against FIU will continue and Alex Highsmith is due for a breakout game. However, I believe that the Panther secondary will be able to force turnovers that will lead to points on offense. Morgan appears to be healthy and key players like Sterling Palmer and Anthony Jones broke out last week.
Final Score: FIU 35, Charlotte 32
Hunter: The 49ers are scoring nearly 36 points per game, and I believe they will need upwards of 40 to secure their first conference win. Coming off a shutout home victory, Butch Davis’ unit is searching for their first C-USA win as well, making this matchup between sub-.500 units paramount for both programs.
Benny LeMay saw a season-low 11 touches for 46 yards in their previous matchup, proving to be a recipe for disaster for the 49ers. Expect a heavy dose of the run game against a team giving up over 180 yards on the ground per contest. The 49ers are taking their talents to South Beach, but if they can’t limit turnovers and convert on third down, this could end up being the James show, Morgan that is.
Final Score: FIU 34, Charlotte 28