Charlotte 49ers (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) vs FIU Panthers (1-4, 0-1 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Friday, October 8, 7:00 PM EST
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Chris Lewis/Analyst: Donte Whitner)
Radio: WQBA 1140 AM Univision Radio South Florida (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Patrick Murray)/WZGV 730 The Game Charlotte 49ers IMG Sports Network (Play-By-Play:Matt Swierad/ Analyst: Al Wallace/Sideline: Bobby Rosinski)
Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: Charlotte -3.5 O/U
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 5-0 (FIU won previous matchup 48-23 in 2019)
Butch Davis’ club enters Friday’s home contest against Charlotte in the midst of a tumultuous stretch on and off the field. Last Saturday’s loss against rival Florida Atlantic may have been the low point of the season to date. 11 penalties for 110 yards, a meager 69 yards rushing and allowing 704 yards of total offense guided the way to a 58-21 FAU victory over the Panthers in Shula Bowl XX. Off the field, rumors swirled over the impending future of Davis as he’s in the final year of his contract. Football Scoop reported that Davis intends to retire following the conclusion of the season, in conjunction with an FIU Athletics’ job posting labeled “Head Coach.”
Sources: With Butch Davis nearing retirement, FIU posts head football coaching job https://t.co/l7QH927eT2— FootballScoop (@FootballScoop) October 5, 2021
Underdog Dynasty confirmed the posting but spoke with an FIU official on the condition of anonymity, who stated that “We have two perpetual pools that are always open, one for head coach and one for an assistant coach. As a state institution, we have to have the role open, if we lose a coach midseason.”
Can independently confirm Brett's report.— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) October 5, 2021
"We have two perpetual pools that are always open, one for head coach and one for an assistant coach. As a state institution, we have to have the role open, if we lose a coach midseason," said a ranking member of FIU Athletics. #PawsUp https://t.co/Tmhdepu1ir
The official also added, “We did not post Butch Davis’ role. Someone chose to take this and make it something that it wasn’t. These roles roll over every quarter.”
In the here and now, Davis is looking to get the Panthers back in the win column. In order to do so, they’ll need to get running back D’Vonte Price back on track following three consecutive subpar performances by the rushing attack as a whole. Price’s 48 carries for 135 yards over the three-game stretch is the worst of his career when he’s averaged 10 or more carries. If establishing the run if the first priority, getting more consistency out of the passing game is a clear-cut number two.
Quarterback Max Bortenschlager’s 42.9 % completion percentage in last week’s loss was statistically the lowest of his career in a game that he attempted more than five passes. He spoke about the need to have more rhythm as a passer following the FAU loss.
“It’s definitely hard to get into a real rhythm when it’s one pass caught and then one incompletion, it’s like basketball, you want to see the ball go in the net and I’ve got to do a better job,” said Bortenschlager.
Defensively, Davis will look to limit Charlotte’s ability to create chunk plays downfield, via All-Conference quarterback Chris Reynolds and standout wide receivers, Victor Tucker and Grant DuBose. Following the FAU game, Davis noted that scrambling quarterbacks have hurt the Panthers this season.
“The explosive plays, when you give those things up and the quarterback has time to scramble around and extend plays, we have to fix that — that’s me and that’s our assistant coaches,” said Davis.
Will Healy and his Charlotte 49ers enter the heart of C-USA play seated atop an East division that looks more wide open than initially anticipated by prognosticators entering the season. The Niners opened the season with a victory over an in-state, Power Five opponent in Duke, followed by a definitive win against Gardner Webb.
However, Charlotte has lost two out of its last three outings, with a major achellies heel being a porous run defense. Defensive coordinator Marcus West and co-Coordinator Brandon Cooper’s unit have allowed 757 yards on the ground over the last three weeks, including 298 to an underwhelming Georgia State team and 336 in last Saturday’s loss at Illinois. Following the game, senior linebacker Luke Martin spoke about the players needing to take accountability.
“It starts with the players. It’s not the scheme,” Martin said to Charlotte Observer and UDD’s Hunter Bailey. “I had a missed tackle (on the game-breaking 80-yard run by Brown). That’s on me. As players, we are capable of making this a really good defense.”
Offensively, Charlotte has been steady under the guidance of veteran quarterback Chris Reynolds and stalwart wideout Victor Tucker. The performance of the run game has been somewhat of a surprise, given the relative inexperience at the position entering the season. The Niners rank third in C-USA in rushing yards per game (174.0) led by senior Calvin Camp and Iowa transfer Shadrick Byrd.
Reynolds, a three-year starter at the position has thrown for 1,115 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions on the season while adding 169 yards and a team-leading three touchdowns on the ground.
Tucker, a Miami native, has 23 grabs for 340 yards. Entering the season, the all-conference performer had a headline quote about opposing Conference USA defensive backs.
Charlotte WR and Miami native Vic Tucker on the toughest DB he's faced in C-USA.— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) July 21, 2021
"To be honest, it's more about me and my mentality. None of them come to mind. I'm all about dominating whoever is in front of me, so nobody, none of em good."
“Nobody, none of em good,” said Tucker when asked who was the toughest C-USA defensive back that he’s faced.
FIU cornerback Rishard Dames was quick to note that Charlotte hasn’t beaten FIU in Tucker’s three seasons. “We’re three-and-0 against them, so that’s the only number I’m worried about.”
In prior seasons, Tucker was the clear number one receiving option for the Niners and while that still hasn’t changed, 2021 has brought an excellent secondary target in Divison II transfer Grant DuBose. After recording eight catches as a freshman in 2019 at D-II Miles College, the 6-2, 200-pound wideout leads Charlotte with 24 catches for 393 yards and four touchdowns.
This is a matchup that provides issues for both teams. Charlotte’s run defense is on pace to be a historically bad unit. If the Niners 254.6 rushing yards allowed per game holds, it would be the most allowed in a season in Conference USA since UTEP allowed 247.3 in 2013. Price and the Panther running backs will look to get back on track against West and Cooper’s unit.
However, the FIU defensive struggles are even more pronounced, as they’re allowing 502.6 yards of offense per outing. Facing a mobile quarterback in Reynolds and two excellent receivers in DuBose and Tucker will make the task of stopping Charlotte difficult. If Healy’s club are truly going to be contenders in 2021, they’ll have to beat the Panthers for the first time in program history.
Final Score: Charlotte 30, FIU 24