FIU Panthers (6-5, 3-4 C-USA) vs Marshall Thundering Herd (7-4, 5-2 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 29th, 12:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Jason Horowitz/Analyst: Danny Kanell)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Kenny Kelly)/WDGG Huntington 93.7 FM The Dawg (Play-By-Play: Steve Cotton & Mark Martin)
Location: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV
Betting Line: O/U 49.5 Marshall -7.5
All-Time Series Record: Marshall leads 5-2 (Marshall won last meeting 28-25 in 2018)
The Panthers are coming off their biggest win in program history, defeating Miami (Fla.) 30-24, capturing FIU’s first ever win over a Power Five opponent. The game saw the Panther defense intercept Hurricanes’ quarterback Jarren Williams three times and produce multiple goal-line stands.
Linebacker Sage Lewis had his best game of the season, recording 10 tackles (5 solo) and an interception and cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver intercepted Williams on Miami’s opening drive of the contest.
Offensively, running back Anthony Jones had a game-high 112 yards and one touchdown, while FIU quarterback James Morgan had his best game in roughly a month, tossing two touchdown passes.
Kicker Jose Borregales has rebounded from a shaky start to the season, coming through with three field goals, including two from 50+.
Now, the goal for Butch Davis’ team is to get their seventh win, which will undoubtedly secure the program’s third-straight bowl appearance.
In order to do so, it starts with the offensive line being able to duplicate their success keeping Morgan clean, that they had against the Hurricanes. Allen Mogridge’s unit didn’t allow a sack and had only one recorded QB hurry charged to them in Saturday’s victory.
Marshall returned number one wideout Obi Obialo two weeks ago against Lousiana Tech and he made an immediate impact, hauling in eight passes for 146 yards. Conference USA’s third-ranked pass defense will have to be up to the task of keeping Obialo in-check.
Additionally, FIU’s run defense has put together consecutive solid outings against top-level competition.
However, they’re facing the top rushing attack in Conference USA and arguably the league’s best running back in Brenden Knox.
For the Thundering Herd this season, it’s been a matter of as Isaiah Green goes, the team goes. Not to put it all on one player, however, quarterback is the most important position on the field and Green has been the difference in Marshall’s losses.
Last week at Charlotte, the redshirt sophomore went 6-of-17 for 86 yards with two interceptions in a 24-13 loss to the 49ers.
Doc Holliday doesn’t need a stellar performance from Green, but he needs his signal-caller to avoid giving the ball away. In FIU’s upset of Miami, the three interceptions snagged by the Panthers undoubtedly made the difference in deciding the game’s outcome.
Running back Brenden Knox is a dark-horse candidate for C-USA’s Offensive Player of the Year, leading the conference in rushing with 1,138 yards. Expect Knox, at a bare minimum to hit his season average of carries per game (19.1) against FIU’s run defense that is last in the league, giving up 202 yards per contest.
The Herd’s pass rush have been one of the top performers in Conference USA, with 33 sacks which sits them third, behind Southern Miss (35) and UAB (36). While FIU’s offensive line has only allowed 13 sacks, tying them with UAB for the league-lead, teams have been able to generate pressure on James Morgan.
Look for Marquis Couch and Darius Hodge to provide a challenge to the FIU offensive line. Also, former Panther Fermin Silva will be lining up against his old team for the first time. He’s been used primarily as a reserve/pass-rush specialist and has 17 tackles with two sacks on the year.
Keys to Victory
- Force Turnovers: FIU has one of the best secondary units in C-USA and for that matter in FBS football. Isaiah Green has shown that he can be susceptible to turning the football over. Especially since Brenden Knox should see at least 25 carries, making the most of when the Herd throw the football will be key.
- Captain Morgan is Healthy: Despite shrugging off questions regarding his knee injury suffered against Western Kentucky, there’s no doubt that James Morgan is much healthier than he has been in the earlier part of the year. He played his first game in several weeks without a brace and sleeve on his left knee. When 100%, Morgan is one of the top passers in C-USA.
- Stopping the Run: There’s no two ways about it, when FIU’s run defense has given up yards, it’s been in large quantities. 360 to Tulane, 275 to Lousiana Tech, 471 to Middle Tennessee State and 261 to Florida Atlantic. For Butch Davis’ team to have any chance at pulling off the upset, Marshall can’t run them out of the stadium.
- Isaiah Green: The label of game-manager is dreaded by some quarterbacks. In this case, if Green can make the throws that are available and more importantly, protect the football, there’s more than enough talent around him to make enough plays to being Marshall their eighth win.
- Offensive Line: Marshall has been an average group in conference at protecting the quarterback, while FIU sits 10th in C-USA with 17 sacks, the Panthers’ defensive line has been a different group since transfers Alexy Jean-Baptiste and Chris Whittaker were granted eligibility. The duo’s six sacks in the five games they’ve played together exceeds the rest of the defensive line’s combined 4.5 sacks in 11 games.
- Second Half: It’s not that the Herd haven’t performed well in the final two quarters of games. However, in losses to Boise State, MTSU and Charlotte, the second half has been decisively won by opponents. Against an FIU team that has had poor performances coming out of halftime, they can’t let the Panthers hang around.
Last year’s 28-25 upset by Marshall may have been the catalyst to this season’s disappointing 6-5 record for FIU.
Wide receivers Tony Gaiter IV, Maurice Alexander and safety Rishard Dames said as much in postgame interviews this year.
Now, FIU has the opportunity to return the favor and play spoiler to a Marshall team that still has an outside chance to win C-USA’s East division.
Quite frankly, everything on paper says this is the Herd’s game to win. Knox is one of the league’s best rushers, taking on the league’s worst team in stopping the run. Marshall has one of the better defense’s in C-USA, taking on an FIU offense that’s been a seesaw all year.
However, last week showed the first glimpse of what the 2019 FIU football team was supposed to be all season.
With their postseason future still not a certainty despite six wins, getting a victory in Huntington is just as crucial as last week’s win against Miami was.
Final Score: FIU 21, Marshall 20