UMass Minutemen (1-4, FBS Independent) vs FIU Panthers (1-3, 0-2 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 5th, 7:00 PM
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts & Analyst: Kenny Kelly)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket (Play-By-Play: Harry Kroll/Analyst: Cameron Lynch)/WATD 95.9 FM, WHYN 560 AM, WCRN 830 AM (Play-By-Play: Jay Burnham/Analyst: Pete Brock/Sidelines: Adam Frenier)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -25 O/U 65
All-Time Series Record: Series is tied at 2. (FIU won last matchup 63-24)
The Panthers return from a bye week to enter a crucial stretch in their 2019 campaign.
Four of FIU’s next five contests will be at Riccardo Silva Stadium, and the same four games are against teams (UMass, Charlotte, UTEP, ODU) who did not make a bowl game last season.
“The bye week gave us a chance as a coaching staff to look at the first four games and we’ll eliminate what hasn’t worked for us,” said FIU head coach Butch Davis during his weekly show.
After a 1-3 start to the season, if FIU will have any chance of replicating last year’s success with a bowl berth, it starts with this weekend’s game against the Minutemen.
Quarterback James Morgan set a career-high in passing yards (394) in the Panthers’ loss to Louisiana Tech last week. The redshirt senior finished the night 29-for-41 with 3 total TD’s after missing the week prior with an ankle injury.
In the loss, FIU’s offense looked the most complete that it has all season, with running backs Napoleon Maxwell (8 carries, 78 yards) and Anthony Jones (9 carries, 35 yards) combining for over 100 rushing yards and three FIU wideouts had over 85 yards receiving.
Look for the Panthers to get Maxwell going early, as he has excellent numbers (28 carries for 181 yards and 4tds) in two career games against UMass.
Left tackle D’Antne Demery was ejected during the final minutes of the La Tech game for throwing a punch.
As a result, he’ll miss the first half of this week’s game. Starting right tackle Devontay Taylor will slide into Demery’s spot, while redshirt freshman Lyndell Hudson Jr. will get his first career start at right tackle.
Defensively, FIU struggled against the run, but that wasn’t entirely their own doing as they were on the field for over 90 plays last week.
They’ll look to bounce back against a UMass rushing attack that is ranked in the middle of the pack in FBS football (77th) and hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher this year.
However, the status of their best defensive player is unknown.
Middle linebacker Sage Lewis left the Tech game with hamstring injury and his status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
The FIU secondary has the potential to feast on a Minutemen passing attack that’s in flux.
Starting quarterback Randall West was suspended for last week’s contest against Akron, while backup Andrew Brito is dealing with concussion-like symptoms.
UMass announced that third-string QB Michael Curtis will make the start on Saturday.
Ironically, the redshirt senior was the team’s leading passer (8-15-158) in their 63-24 loss versus FIU in Miami last season.
On special teams, punter Tommy Heatherly has bounced back after a rough start to his collegiate career on opening night. His 45.1 yards per punt is good for first in Conference USA.
First-year head coach Walt Bell and his UMass team picked up a much-needed win against Akron last weekend.
After starting the season 0-4, Bell was forced to six players (three starters) for missing curfew, including the aforementioned Randall West.
His team responded by putting together their best performance of the season, and gave the 35-year-old his first victory as a head coach after coming over from Florida State in the offseason.
The UMass run defense which entered last week’s game ranked 128th out of 130 FBS teams, held Akron to 71 yards on 27 carries.
Entering the FIU game, the major question mark will be the quarterback position. Although Curtis is a veteran, he’ll be making only his third career start.
On the ground, Bilal Ally has spent the past three seasons as a reserve to Marquis Young’s starring role. The 5-11, 185-pound senior is coming off a 97-yard day against Akron and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Defensively, UMass are dealing with similar struggles as FIU against the run.
The Minutemen are giving up an average of 241.2 yards per contest which lands them nine spots behind FIU at 124th in the nation.
Middle linebacker Cole McCubrey is leading the team with 39 tackles, followed by defensive end Jake Byczko with 27 stops.
Arguably the best defensive player for UMass is veteran cornerback Isaiah Rodgers.
The 5-10, 170-pound senior from Tampa has 10 career interceptions, including a 58-yard pick-six in last week’s victory.
He’ll also be a factor in the return game, as his 1,494 career kick-return yards is the most in Massachusetts’ 141-year program history.
The Panthers’ start to the season was less than stellar to say the least. Now, coming off the bye week they enter the most important stretch of their season.
Butch Davis is 3-0 coming off a bye at FIU and I expect that his staff will make the necessary adjustments to get a win.
UMass is a program that’s is the midst of a rebuild under Bell. The Minutemen lead FBS teams with seven true freshmen in the starting lineup.
While Bell has the program heading in the right direction, Saturday’s task against FIU will be too tall.
Final Score: FIU 35, UMass 13