Miami Hurricanes (6-4, 4-3 ACC) vs FIU Panthers (5-5, 3-4 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 23rd, 7:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Rich Waltz/Analyst: Aaron Murray/Sidelines: Amanda Balionis)
Radio: WINZ 940 Fox Sports Radio Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Kenny Kelly)/WQAM 560 The Joe Miami (Play by Play: Joe Zagacki/Analyst: Don Bailey Jr./Sideline: Josh Darrow)
Location: Marlins Park, Miami, FL
Betting Line: O/U 49 UM -20
All-Time Series Record: Miami leads 3-0 (Miami won last meeting 31-17 in 2018)
As the Panthers enter their penultimate game of the 2019 season, it’s equal parts mystifying as it is abundantly obvious how they’ve arrived at this point with a 5-5 record.
Injuries to multiple players, including quarterback James Morgan, linebacker Sage Lewis and receiver Maurice Alexander have played a factor. An FIU run defense that currently sits last in C-USA has certainly reared its ugly head in the losses, and the offensive line has been trying to build continuity after losing four members from last year’s team.
Now, they face crosstown rival Miami, having resolved none of the aforementioned issues and their bowl lives are squarely on life support.
“It’s crucial that we cut down on the mistakes. Guys have to focus on doing their jobs, we can’t have the fumbles, errant snaps or turnovers,” said head coach Butch Davis after Wednesday’s practice.
In the loss to FAU two weeks ago, outside of a Napoleon Maxwell 75-yard touchdown run, FIU ran for just 53 yards on 27 attempts. To have any chance at beating the Hurricanes, the run game will have to improve and that starts with the offensive line.
Senior running back Anthony Jones is expected to return to the lineup after missing the FAU game with a calf injury.
Morgan is having a pedestrian year (148-252, 1,852, 10-2) compared to last season’s success. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he has been the victim of the second-most catchable passes in FBS football not being hauled in.
Against UM, Morgan will need to resemble as much of his 2018 self as possible, despite playing through a knee injury.
Defensively, it’s been a mixed bag for FIU.
There are no two ways about their issues against the run, but the defensive line has picked up their play since the waivers to Alexy Jean-Baptiste and Chris Whittaker were cleared.
After the first four games, FIU only had three sacks. Since then, they’ve sacked opposing QB’s 10 times, with six coming from the duo above.
The secondary is one of the best in the nation, raking 15th in FBS football in passing yards allowed per game. Some of that success is because opposing teams have chosen to run the football, but the FIU defensive backfield is a talented bunch.
“The offense (Miami’s) should be worried, because we’re going to have them backed up in their own end zone a lot,” said senior safety Olin Cushion III during media availability at Marlins Park.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Manny Diaz in his inaugural season as Miami’s head coach.
Following a 3-4 start, the Hurricanes have turned things around by winning their last three, including victories over arch-rival Florida State and a 35-point drubbing of Louisville.
Quarterback Jarren Williams set a Miami single-game passing TD record with his six touchdown tosses in the victory against the Cardinals.
The first order of attack against FIU, however, should be the ground game. Backs Deejay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris should see carries early and often against the nation’s 113th ranked unit in stopping the run.
At the receiver position, the Canes possess a litany of targets who are capable playmakers. Mike Hartley, Jeff Thomas, and K.J. Osborn all have dynamic ability, but none of them provide the size matchup nightmare that former Hurricane Lawrence Cager used in last year’s game.
He had two receiving scores in 2018’s 31-17 victory over FIU that were purely jump-ball’s in the end zone.
Expect tight end Brevin Jordan to be a focal point - if he plays.
The Mackey Award finalist leads the team in receiving yards, but is expected to be a game time decision after missing the Louisville game.
Undoubtedly, the 2019 Hurricanes’ calling card is their defense. The unit ranks in the top-20 in FBS football in total defense, points allowed per game and fewest first downs allowed. That final stat is one that Panther fans should be concerned about, as FIU has had struggles on early downs throughout the season.
Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman is among the best in college football and his 14.5 tackles for loss are evidence that he’ll be looking to play in the FIU backfield throughout the evening.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Gregory Rousseau leads the ACC with 11 sacks. He’ll have his chances against FIU tackles D’Antne Demery, Devontay Taylor and Lyndell Hudson Jr.
3 Keys to Victory
- Establish the run: For FIU, having a consistent rushing attack will help the offense stay ahead of the chains and out of third-and-long conversion situations. Additionally, it will help the Panther defense get a breather on the sidelines. “We can’t keep putting the defense out there all game, those guys have to have a chance to rest,” said Davis in his FAU postgame.
- Defend the run: Yes, FIU has had their struggles against the run. However, the Canes have been just as bad running the football. Miami enters the game with the 117th rushing attack in FBS football. If Sage Lewis and Teair Tart can get going early, that will go a long way to building the confidence of the defense.
- Big Play James: There’s no doubt that James Morgan hasn’t been 100% healthy since the knee injury in week two. Let’s see what the bye week of rest was able to do. If he can push the ball downfield and connect on a chunk play to Austin Maloney or Shemar Thornton, it can open up the intermediate passing game and the rushing attack for FIU.
It’s nice to say that anything can happen in a rivalry game.
However, FIU’s five wins this year come against teams with a combined record of 13-38, with one of those being over a 5-5 FCS program in New Hampshire.
It would be amazing to see the underdog Panthers play to the potential that many thought they had entering the season.
But it’s not realistic to expect that to happen against a giant step up in competition.
Final Score: Miami 42, FIU 17