FIU Panthers (1-2, 0-1 C-USA) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (2-1. 0-0 C-USA)
Date/Time: Friday, September 20 - 8:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network: (Play-By-Play: Jason Horowitz, Analyst: Malik Zaire)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts, Analyst: Kenny Kelly)/LA Tech Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Dave Nitz, Analyst: Teddy Allen, Sideline: Luke McCown)
Location: Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, LA
Betting Line: LA Tech -9 O/U 46
All-Time Series Record: LA Tech leads 3-0 (Tech won last meeting 44-24 in 2016)
FIU is coming off a much-needed 30-17 victory over New Hampshire on Saturday evening.
The big story coming out of that game was the play of backup quarterback Kaylan Wiggins - and the status of injured starter James Morgan.
Wiggins made his first career start and ran his way into the Panther record books in the process.
He finished the evening with a pedestrian stat line as a passer (12-18-127), but used his athleticism (14 carries, 187 yards, two TDs) to set a new mark for rushing yards by an FIU quarterback, surpassing Jake Medlock’s seven-year-old mark of 144 yards against Akron in 2012.
Morgan was said to be a game-time decision for the UNH contest, but was a late scratch due to the ankle injury sustained against Western Kentucky.
His status for the LA Tech game is similar to last week, with there being conflicting reports as to his health.
Linebacker Sage Lewis recorded eight tackles along with two pass-breakups and his first career interception in the win.
The defensive line had their first game of providing consistent pressure on the quarterback, with linemen Teair Tart and Noah Curtis accounting for four QB hurries and a tackle-for-loss.
For the Panthers to pull off the upset victory on the road, they’ll need a more steady performance from the running backs, who combined for 132 yards on 38 carries.
The offensive line will need to account for the Bulldogs’ talented DE/OLB Willie Baker.
FIU has struggled against premier pass-rushers in 2019, with Tulane’s Patrick Johnson and WKU’s DeAngelo Malone/Juwan Jones having success against the Panthers’ offensive line.
Lastly, kicker Jose Borregales will look to shake off a poor performance against UNH. The talented junior went 1-of-3 on field goal attempts and missed a PAT.
LA Tech Preview
The Bulldogs got off to a slow start to the season, but appear to be rounding into form.
An opening week loss to Texas on the road was expected, however, Tech let FCS Grambling State hang around for three quarters and only won by six points.
Last week’s 35-7 victory looked more like the team that should have taken the field the week prior. Quarterback J’mar Smith looked efficient going 19-of-26 for 267 yards and two TD passes in the team’s win over Bowling Green.
Star wide receiver Adrian Hardy also had a nice game, hauling in six passes for 95 yards. Against the Panthers, he’ll be facing an FIU secondary that’s one of the best in the league.
Defensively, Amik Robertson has picked up where he left off the past two seasons and that’s being arguably the best defensive player in all of Conference USA.
The diminutive cornerback intercepted his first pass of the 2019 season, returning it 36 yards for a pick-six in the Bulldogs victory last week.
On the defensive line, hybrid OLB/DE Willie Baker will look to jump-start his 2019 season against an FIU offensive line that’s still looking to round into form after being one of the best in FBS football last season.
As their loss to WKU showed, there’s no such thing as a “sure win” for this year’s FIU Panther team.
I mention that because when you look at their five games following this one, FIU takes on four teams who didn’t make a bowl last season.
There’s reason to believe that they’ll beat UMass, Old Dominion and UTEP.
However, Charlotte looks like they’ll contend for a bowl and 49ers’ running back Benny Lemay has had his most successful games in his career against FIU.
With all of that said, it makes this Louisiana Tech game the proverbial “must-win” for the Panthers.
On the Tech side of things, C-USA’s West division appears to be wide open.
Preseason favorite North Texas is off to a 1-2 start, while Southern Miss and UAB look like they’ll contend.
A victory against FIU could propel the Bulldogs to a 5-1 start before they face each of the three teams listed above.
Final Score: LA Tech 24, FIU 21