Florida Atlantic Owls (3-1, 3-1 C-USA) vs FIU Panthers (0-3, 0-1 C-USA)
Date/Time: Friday, November 13th, 7:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: John Sadak/Analyst: Randy Cross)
Radio: WSUA Radio Caracol Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Cam Lynch)/WMEN 640 AM The Hurricane Fox Sports Radio Palm Beach (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/ Analyst: Kris Bartels)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FAU -9.5 O/U 43.5
All-Time Series Record: Florida Atlantic leads 13-4 (FAU won last matchup 37-7 in 2019)
For Butch Davis’ team, the three-week layoff due to a “lack of available student-athletes” that caused the team to postpone the Marshall game and cancel last week’s scheduled road trip to UTEP comes amid a 2020 season that Davis calls the “most unbelievable season” he’s been experienced.
“It’s been the most unbelievable and inconsistent season I’ve been involved in,” said Davis. “There’s been week where we haven’t been able to practice due to Coronavirus contact tracing - we tested the guys this (Wednesday) morning and as of right now, we’re on track to play Friday night.”
Inconsistent practices have hurt FIU across the board, but no position has been affected more than the quarterbacks. The Panther passing attack is averaging a minuscule 95.6 yards per game through the air, with three signal-callers seeing time. For the first time this season, FIU’s online depth chart listed a number-one quarterback as redshirt freshman Stone Norton is projected to start against Florida Atlantic. The Nashville native leads the team in all major passing categories and each of FIU’s three passing scores has come from Norton.
He’ll be helped by the return of tight end Sterling Palmer and wide receiver JJ Holloman, who both missed the Panthers’ 19-10 loss to Jacksonville State on October 23rd. Holloman, a transfer from Georgia has been the most targeted receiver this season, while redshirt junior Bryce Singleton leads the team in catches with seven.
Injuries have played a major factor in the aforementioned lack of available student-athletes, specifically in the starting lineup.
“13 starters have missed time this season due to injuries, so a lot of young guys have had to step up for us,” said Davis.
Redshirt sophomore running back Shaun Peterson Jr. tore his ACL and meniscus in the JSU game and starting kick returner Lexington Joseph’s status for Friday’s game is in question.
Defensively, FIU has played well at times, but Davis is looking for more consistency from the unit.
“We have to be consistent and play well in every aspect of the game to give ourselves a legitimate chance,” said Davis. “Things like the the offsides penalties and mental mistakes that extend drives are huge.”
While the number of rushing yards allowed may not show an improved FIU run defense, a closer look at the details shows that the Panthers may be up for the challenge of stopping one of Conference USA’s top rushing attacks. Opponents are averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 213.3 yards per game against FIU. However, if you subtract three chunk plays of 61, 33 and 31 yards — that number plummets to 3.6 yards per carry and 169 yards per game — well below what the Panthers were allowing last season in each category.
Look for cornerback Josh Turner and safety Richard Dames to lead the way for the FIU secondary. Turner leads the team in passes defensed while Dames heads the group in tackles with 21.
Florida Atlantic Preview
The effects of Tropical Storm Eta were certainly felt at FAU Stadium during Owls’ 10-6 victory over Western Kentucky last weekend. Winds of 25 miles per hour remained steady throughout the contest and may have played a factor in an FAU passing game that only managed 108 yards on 7-of-17 passing.
While the weather isn’t projected to play a factor on Friday, there’s still plenty of talk swirling around the quarterback position for head coach Willie Taggart. Starter Nick Tronti’s passing yards have decreased in each of the last three FAU outings, with the last two games seeing backups Willie Taggart Jr. and Javion Posey take snaps in designed packages. It will be worth watching to see if Tronti again splits reps with either of his backups.
Friday should see the return of running back Malcolm Davidson to the FAU backfield. The 5-10, 205-pound Davidson won last year’s Shula Bowl game MVP honors with a career-high 153 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns. He missed last week’s win with an undisclosed injury, but leads the Owls in rushing with 195 yards this season.
FAU’s defense has been one of the top units in C-USA in 2020, having not allowed a touchdown in the past eight quarters of play. The Owls’ ability to pressure opposing passers has played a major factor in the defensive success, with defensive ends Jaylen Joyner and Leighton McCarthy along with DE/LB Chris Jones combining for 12 sacks this season.
In the FAU secondary, cornerbacks Zyon Gilbert and Romain Mungin have stifled opposing passing attacks. Pro Football Focus rates Gilbert as one of the top defensive backs in the C-USA and Mungin was targeted 13 times but allowed only 41 receiving yards in last week’s win.
The Owls are riding a three-year win streak over rival FIU and are looking to extend their win streak to three-straight with a victory in this year’s Shula Bowl. Meanwhile, Friday’s contest will mark 355 days since the Panthers’ last victory — FIU’s 30-24 triumph over Miami last November.
Davis’ club enters the FAU game having to depend on a myriad of inexperienced players due to the litany of injuries at key positions. If D’Vonte Price can get going early and allow Norton to get in a rhythm, the Panthers can make the game interesting. However, if the FIU defense is forced to see the field for over 40 minutes as they did against Jacksonville State, they’ll have little chance at a victory.
Final Score: Florida Atlantic 24, FIU 17