New Hampshire Wildcats (0-1, 0-0 CAA) vs FIU Panthers (0-2, 0-1 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 14 - 7:00 PM
TV: ESPN+ (Play-by-Play: A.J. Ricketts/CxC: Kenny Kelly)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket Miami (Ryan Urquhart)/Wildcat Sports Radio Network WGIR 610 AM Manchester/WQSO-FM 96.7 Portsmouth (Play-by-Play: Bob Lipman/Analyst: Justin McIsaac)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -9.5 O/U 46
All-Time Series Record: First meeting between both schools
The Panthers opened the season with a disappointing 42-14 loss to Tulane that saw the give up over 350 yards rushing. They followed that up with an equally disheartening 20-14 loss to a Western Kentucky team who lost to FCS Central Arkansas the week prior.
At 0-2, it’s essentially now or never for Butch Davis and his FIU team, as they look to salvage any hopes of the promise they entered the season with.
It starts with an offensive line unit that’s looked over-matched in the first two contests. The Panthers are averaging an abysmal 2.9 yards per carry on the ground, and through the air they haven’t fared any better, with FIU quarterbacks completing under 50% of their passes.
I say quarterbacks as in plural, because starter James Morgan left the WKU game shortly before halftime with a lower-body injury. While he did return for the final two snaps of the game, Davis said in his weekly coach’s show that backup Kaylan Wiggins will see extra snaps with the first team.
The most glaring offensive stat for the Panthers is on third downs. The team is a woeful 6 for 27 (22.2%) on converting third downs.
Davis knows that the team has to perform better in that department.
“The area that we have to improve the most is on third down, we’re not going to win very many games if we keep at the rate that we’re at,” said Davis.
Defensively, FIU looked much better against the Tops than they did opening night versus Tulane.
The stingy secondary had two takeaways, including a thrilling 80-yard pick-six by defensive back Rishard Dames.
The run defense held WKU to 3.3 yards per attempt, which is the lowest number since their 2018 week two victory over Old Dominion.
Linebacker Jamal Gates is enjoying a solid start to the season, being tied for the team-lead in tackles (14) with Sage Lewis and forcing a fumble in the Tulane game.
Lastly, punter Tommy Heatherly rebounded after a shaky FBS debut, averaging just over 45 yards per punt, while talented kicker Jose Borregales missed his first attempt of the year from 39 yards out.
New Hampshire Preview
It’s been a whirlwind start to the season for the Wildcats.
13 days prior to their season-opener, head coach Sean McDonnell took an indefinite leave of absence from the program to tend to health-related concerns.
McDonnell was set to enter his 21st season at the helm in Durham. Instead, in his place is arguably the greatest player ever to suit up for New Hampshire in quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos.
On the field, the team is coming off of a sloppy 13-10 loss to Holy Cross, in a game that saw the Wildcats commit seven penalties and turn the ball over three times.
For New Hampshire to pull off the upset, a major factor will be the play of running back Carlos Washington Jr.
The 5-11, 205-pound sophomore will be the focal point of the offense, especially with true freshman Max Brosmer making his first career start. Dating back to the 2018 season, Washington Jr. has run for over 100 yards in four of his last five outings.
The ability to get the run game going against an FIU defense that has given up at least 170 yards on the ground in 9 of their last 15 games is crucial.
Defensively, UNH has two seniors at the cornerback position in Isiah Perkins and Prince Smith Jr. How the Wildcats’ secondary fares defending the FIU receivers on the outside will play a factor in the outcome of the game.
It’s now or never for FIU. The Tulane game was supposed to be a toss-up, while WKU coming off of an ugly loss should have been a win.
Now, facing a 0-3 start, they have to get the win against a New Hampshire team that doesn’t have the talent or athletes to compete with FIU.
I expect the offensive line to perform better than they did in the first two contests, which will allow for the rest of the offense to come alive.
Quite frankly, if those things don’t happen, Panther fans could be looking at a long 2019 season.
Final score: FIU 35, UNH 10