North Texas (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) vs FIU Panthers (1-9, 0-5 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 20, 7:00 PM
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)
ESPN 3 can be found here — https://go.web.plus.espn.com/oey0yn
Radio: 105.5 FM WMIB Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)/95.3 KHYI Dallas/Fort Worth (Play-By-Play: Dave Barnett/Analyst: Hank Dickerson)
Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: O/U 59 North Texas -11
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 5-3 (North Texas won last meeting 17-14 in 2014)
Saturday’s contest represents senior day for 13 Panthers who will take the field at FIU Stadium for the final time, many of which have been a part of the most successful three-year stretch in program history.
Running back D’Vonte Price and defensive backs Richard Dames and Rishard Dames, Josh Valentine-Turner and Dorian Hall headline the group, which also include defensive starters Daniel Jackson, Kevin Oliver and Jamal Gates. Undoubtedly, the group will want to finish their home careers with a win and stop a nine-game losing streak for the Panthers.
Price, who was injured shortly before halftime of the Old Dominion game, is slated to miss the contest, leaving the run game in the hands of reserves Shaun Peterson Jr., Eric Wilson Jr. and Lexington Joseph. In last Saturday’s 50-10 loss at Middle Tennessee, the three combined for 92 yards on 25 carries.
The 6-2, 215-pound Price accepted an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Wednesday and it appears that he’s played his last down in an FIU uniform, finishing his career as one of the most productive backs in program history.
The Dames twins, Miami natives, will go down as two of the top defensive players in program history, ranking among the top-five in tackles and passes defended from the secondary.
The FIU passing game will look to bounce back after a season-low 88 yards passing in the loss to the Blue Raiders. Despite the struggles, North Texas head coach Seth Littrell is still keenly aware of Panthers’ quarterback Max Bortenschlager’s ability to push the ball downfield.
“He can spin the ball and has a lot of playmakers and team speed around him,” said Littrell. “If you’re a little undisciplined with your eyes and not staying on top of routes, he can hurt you quickly. You have to be really disciplined and make sure you’re using the right technique because they’re an explosive team.”
On the season, Bortenschlager has topped 275 yards passing six times, albeit five of the six came in losses.
Oliver, Jackson, Dames along with fellow senior Eric Mitchell Jr. will be tasked with finding a way to sure up the Panthers’ run defense, which has struggled throughout the season. Opponents have topped 200 yards five times this year and as a whole, FIU ranks in the bottom third in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game.
In the secondary, Andrew Volmar is slated to make his second career start at cornerback and redshirt junior Benny McCray will start for Dorian Hall. Volmar, a second-year true freshman has played well in extended time due to injuries to Hall and cornerback Josh Valentine-Turner. McCray began the season as a reserve nickel and safety but now ranks third on the team with 49 tackles.
Several juniors and redshirt juniors will also take part in the senior day festivities.
Caleb Lynum, Tevin Jones, Benny McCray, Bryce Singleton, Sterling Palmer, Kaylan Wiggins, Josh Valentine-Turner, Randall St. Felix, Rocky Jacques-Louis, Logan Gunderson, Carson Kaleo, Jordan Underwood and Rishard Dames will be honored with the seniors. It’s unclear at this time whether or not all of the players outside of Dames will return to FIU in 2022.
Lastly, Saturday will serve as the grand finale for head coach Butch Davis at FIU Stadium, who confirmed reports that he will not return in 2021.
North Texas Preview
For Seth Littrell’s club, their three-game win streak has been led resurgence defensively that the Mean Green have been looking for since the end of the 2018 season.
In the last three weeks, UNT has allowed an average of 18.3 points per contest, over 20 points less than the 38.5 points per game the defense allowed in the six-game losing streak prior. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is the third DC that Littrell has employed in as many season, in an effort to sure up a unit that’s allowed over 38 points per contest since 2019.
Against the Panthers, look for linebacker KD Davis and standout defensive tackle Dion Novil to lead the way in keeping FIU’s run game behind the chains on early downs — and forcing them into third-and-long situations.
“They have pretty good receivers and a quarterback who throws the ball well, along with a couple of different slot guys and a good tight end. We can’t look at their record and not respect them,” said senior safety Makyle Sanders.
Sanders and sophomore safety Deshawn Gaddie headline the North Texas secondary that will be tasked with keeping FIU wideouts Bryce Singleton and Tyrese Chambers in check. Both Chambers and Singleton are among the top-25 in the nation in yards per catch and have combined for over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving on the year.
Offensively, 2021 has been a continuation of last year’s success on the ground, a departure from the aerial attack during the Mason Fine era for the Mean Green. Senior DeAndre Torrey is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard rushing season, entering Saturday’s contest with 997 yards and eight touchdowns. The 5-7, 199-pound Torrey has rushed for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career.
28-year-old quarterback Austin Aune has thrown for 1,428 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in his second season as the primary starter for the Mean Green. He’s seen several wideouts miss time or leave the program in 2021, but still has capable targets in tight end/H-back Jason Pirtle and wideout Roderic Burns.
The loss of Price puts the rushing attack squarely in the hands of the underclassmen. If the trio of highly-touted backs can establish FIU on early downs, that can open up opportunities for Chambers, Singleton and tight end Sterling Palmer.
Defensively, FIU has to be up to the task of stopping Torrey, who is one of the most dynamic backs in C-USA.
The seniors will certainly rise to the occasion, but if the Panthers are going to have a chance, it will depend on the play of the many younger players, especially on defense, who are seeing extended time — because there’s no doubt that North Texas comes in as the deeper team.
Final Score: North Texas 41, FIU 28