FIU Panthers (1-2, 0-0 Conference USA) vs Central Michigan Chippewas (1-2, 0-0 Mid-American Conference)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 25th, 12:00 PM EST
TV: ESPN Plus (Play-By-Play: Jim Barbar/Analyst: Randy Buffington)
ESPN Plus can be found here — https://go.web.plus.espn.com/oey0yn
Radio: WQBA 1140 AM Univision Radio South Florida (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Patrick Murray)/Central Michigan Radio Network 98.5 FM Mount Pleasant/AM 1270 Detroit (Play-By-Play: Adam Jaska /Analyst: Brock Gutierrez)
Location: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant, MI
Betting Line: Central Michigan -10 O/U 56
All-Time Series Record: First-ever meeting
For Butch Davis’ FIU team, they enter Saturday’s contest at Central Michigan in an early must-win scenario. After beating FCS Long Island on opening week, the Panthers dropped a heartbreaker to Texas State, followed by last week’s 54-21 loss at Texas Tech. In FIU’s last two outings, they’ve undoubtedly been hurt by self-inflected mistakes. Nine penalties and two lost fumbles against Texas State helped keep the Bobcats in the game, followed by a strip-sack in overtime that lost the game for FIU in the extra period. Against Texas Tech, FIU had an opportunity to take a two-score advantage in the first half before quarterback Max Bortenschlager tossed a pick-six that instead tied the game. For Davis’ club to have a chance in Mount Pleasant, they’ll have to cut down on the mistakes.
“You’ll hear this from our players and you’ve probably already heard it, literally, football teams don’t care about the opponent. If you’re worried about who you’re playing — you better be worried about you and executing. Your effort and tenacity with how hard you play. Do you beat yourself with the penalties, busted support on coverages and busted support on runs, those types of things,” said Davis.
If correcting the miscues is step one to finding the win column, closely behind has to be the play of Bortenschlager. The Maryland transfer’s numbers on the season are far from abysmal and he’s looked like a much better quarterback than the one who was hampered by injuries and a lack of an offseason last year. However, he’s had a handful of timely mistakes that have affected the team over the last two outings.
“He was okay at times, he was able to extend some plays but we didn’t get open as often as we should have and we didn’t do a good enough job blocking on the perimeter in the run game, which put him in a lot of third and long situations,” said Davis.
Bortenschlager has been able to find his receivers for big plays down the field or draw pass interference penalties at times in the first three contests. Receiver Tyrese Chambers is fifth among Conference USA receivers in yards per catch, averaging 24.1 yards per grab. If the passing game can develop more consistency, it will help open up things for running back D’Vonte Price, who’s looking to top the century mark after being held to only 51 yards in last week’s loss.
On the defensive side of the ball, the FIU secondary will look to rebound following an uncharacteristically bad performance in Lubbock. Tech quarterback Tyler Shough went 26-of-35 passing for 399 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. As a whole, Tech finished with almost 600 yards of total offense. Keeping CMU quarterback Jacob Sirmon in check will be key. Defensive tackle Davon Strickland and linebackers Jamal Gates and Daniel Jackson will be key in keeping CMU’s rushing attack in check. Also, star/nickel Pierce Withers is coming off a seven-tackle performance against the Red Raiders.
Central Michigan Preview
Jim McElwain’s team enters the contest at 1-2, but under vastly different circumstances than FIU. The Chippewas opened the season with a 10-point loss at Missouri in a game that was tight throughout and their other loss came against SEC heavyweight LSU on the road. The FIU game presents CMU’s first real test at what type of team they may have in 2021.
Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon is in his first season as the starter for Central Michigan and has performed well, given the competition. Sirmon is 52-of-85 passing for 561 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. The former four-star prospect was rated as the number six pro-style quarterback out of high school in 2018. He’s joined by a steady rushing attack that’s led by “super” freshman Lew Nichols. The third-year freshman rushed for 508 yards as a redshirt freshman and leads the team with 232 yards and two scores this year.
Defensively, it will be up to linebacker Troy Brown and safety Gage Kreski to make sure that Price and the rest of the FIU rushing attack don’t get off to a hot start and help get the offense rolling early. Brown leads CMU with 16 tackles and will also play a part in pass coverage against Panther tight ends Sterling Palmer and Rivaldo Fairweather.
On paper, there’s reason to believe that this is a matchup of two teams that are fairly even in talent. Central Michigan’s offense will look forward to a game that they’re not severely overmatched, while FIU’s offense will look to rebound after running into a surprisingly stout Texas Tech defense.
This one will come down to the play up front on both sides of the ball and FIU’s ability to avoid mistakes. If Strickland and defensive end Tevin Jones can pressure Sirmon, that can allow the secondary to ballhawk — and give the linebackers chances to key in on the run. The Panthers can’t afford to go into C-USA play at FAU with a 1-3 record. They haven’t won on the road in over 1,000 days — that streak has to end on Saturday.
Final Score: FIU 27, Central Michigan 24