FIU Panthers (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) vs Marshall Thundering Herd (4-3, 2-1 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 30, 3:30 PM EST
TV: Stadium (Play-By-Play: Noah Coslov/Analyst: Max Starks)
Radio: 105.5 FM WMIB Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Patrick Murray)/WDDG 93.7 FM The Dawg (Play-By-Play: Steve Cotton & Mark Martin)
Location: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV
Betting Line: Marshall -21.5 O/U 66
All-Time Series Record: Marshall leads 6-2 (Marshall won the last matchup 30-27 in 2019)
With last Saturday’s loss, the Panthers fell to 1-6 and in doing so, they’ve placed their proverbial backs against the wall. Butch Davis’ club are virtually assured of a second consecutive losing season, having not won a game against an FBS opponent since the team’s upset victory over Miami in November of 2019.
“I thought that we had an excellent week of preparation and we started the game the way we would have liked to, but the thing that I’m most disappointed in is our inability to stop the run,” said Davis. “Because if you can’t stop the run with guys in gaps, that opens up the ability for teams to use the RPO’s and play-action passes.”
The Panthers allowed 148 rushing yards to Western Kentucky, the Tops’ season-high mark through seven games — in addition to 368 yards on 39-49 passing to Hilltopper signal-caller Bailey Zappe. FIU has allowed over 500 yards of total offense in four of seven outings and opponents are averaging 487.7 yards against the Panthers, ranking 125th out of 130 FBS programs.
In addition to the yards allowed, defensive coordinator Everett Withers’ group has had issues getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. FIU’s 12 sacks land them 12th out of 14 C-USA teams, with only seven of those coming from the front four. The team has forced four turnovers — with only two coming from the defense — the worst among FBS teams.
“We’ve only created two turnovers on defense which is probably the least I’ve ever had at this point in the year since since I’ve been a college or NFL coach,” said Davis.
A positive to come out of the Western Kentucky game was the play of a trio of freshmen. Linebacker Gaethan Bernadel, safety Joe Perkins and cornerback Andrew Volmar were among the leading tacklers, with Volmar and Perkins combining on a forced fumble and recovery. They’ll be depended upon against Marshall as cornerback Josh Valentine-Turner will miss the contest and safety Dorian Hall missed last week’s game.
Offensively, the Panthers are still searching for any semblance of consistency, something that’s been sorely lacking since the season-opening win. Quarterback Max Bortenschlager went 15-of-32 passing for 192 yards and one touchdown in the loss. The game was the Maryland transfer’s fifth game of completing less than 53% of his passes — with three of those being under 47%. True freshman Grayson James took the final six minutes of play and went 6-of-7 passing for 57 yards. While the highly touted three-star recruit has seen action in four contests this year, Davis shot down any notion of making a quarterback change.
“No, absolutely no thought of that, Max potentially has another year,” said Davis. “He’s played great and if you would have asked me in the middle of the summer time, we didn’t have any idea because he didn’t play much last year and has come off of surgeries, but he’s an unbelievable competitor and he’s capable of coming back and throwing for 350 yards next week.”
For Charles Huff and his Thundering Herd, it’s been a seesaw campaign in Huff’s first year at the helm in Huntington. The team opened with consecutive victories over Navy and FCS North Carolina Central, before taking three straight losses by a combined 11 points and now enter the FIU contest having won back-to-back C-USA games.
The Marshall offense, while led by running back Rasheen Ali’s 13 scores, are truly guided by the play of sophomore quarterback Grant Wells — for better or worse. The West Virginia native is still looking to find his footing in his second season as the starter for the Herd. He’s well on his way to a 3,000-yard passing season, having thrown for 2,326 yards with 10 touchdowns through seven games. However, his eight interceptions in a number that he’s still looking to clean up. Wells has thrown a pick in five of the team’s seven outings.
Ali has done an excellent job filling the shoes left behind by former starter Brendan Knox. The 6-0, 200-pound Cleveland native leads all C-USA backs with the aforementioned 13 scores and has topped the century mark in three outings this season, most recently in the Herd’s 49-21 thumping of North Texas two weeks ago. Ali rushed for 109 yards and two scores on 20 carries in the victory.
Defensively, Marshall is coming off a string of games that have seen them hold opponents to 140 yards or less passing, but they have allowed 694 yards on the ground over the last three games. Linebacker Eli Neal has emerged as a potential defensive player of the year candidate entering the home stretch of the year. He’s among the top-15 players in C-USA in tackles (52) and is tied for third in the league in sacks with five.
The Herd’s veteran secondary will face a challenge in FIU’s receiver duo of Bryce Singleton and Tyrese Chambers, who are both among the league leaders in yards per catch. Safeties E.J. Jackson, Nazeeh Johnson and Brandon Drayton will look to make sure that Singelton and Chambers can’t take the top off of the defense.
The Marshall defense has allowed its fair share of rushing yards this year and the FIU game will represent arguably the toughest back they’ll face all year in D’Vonte Price. The Panthers’ star is rated as the third-best draft-eligible running back in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s rankings and will almost certainly be among the top players selected at the position. Price hasn’t topped 100 yards since week two and could be due for a breakout game.
That aside, FIU’s inconsistency on offense along with their inability to stay out of third-and-long situations and sustain drives has left them solely dependant upon big plays to produce points — something that Marshall is keenly aware of. Look for the Herd to take advantage of that, along with FIU’s porous run defense and pick up win number five.
Final Score: Marshall 30, FIU 13