FIU Panthers (1-3, 0-0 C-USA) vs. Florida Atlantic Owls (2-2, 0-0 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 2nd, 3:30 PM
TV: Stadium (Play-By-Play: Ari Wolfe/Analyst: Max Browne)
Radio: WMEN 640 AM The Hurricane Fox Sports Radio Palm Beach (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/Analyst: Kris Bartels)/WQBA 1140 Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Cam Lynch)
Location: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, FL
Betting Line: FAU -10.5 O/U 51.5
All-Time Series Record: Florida Atlantic leads 14-4 (FAU won last matchup 38-19 in 2020)
The Panthers make the hour drive north to Boca Raton in desperate need of a win and eager to put a heartbreaking loss at Central Michigan behind them. After jumping out to a 27-10 lead with one quarter standing between them and victory, FIU surrendered 21 unanswered points to the Chippewas, falling to 1-3 on the season and still in search of their first FBS victory since November 23, 2019 and first road victory since November 17, 2018. In order to put both of those dubious distinctions behind them, they’ll need to jumpstart a rushing attack that’s been held in check for each of the last two contests.
Running back D’Vonte Price rushed for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games for FIU. The dynamic back has been held in check over the last two weeks, rushing for just 101 yards on 32 carries. As a team, the Panthers have 97 yards over the past two outings. Price will look to get back on track against a Florida Atlantic defense that he rushed for a career-high 178 yards against in last year’s loss to the Owls.
Quarterback Max Bortenschlager statistically has performed among the top quarterbacks in Conference USA. However, a deeper look inside the numbers reveals what both Butch Davis and Bortenschlager have stated in postgames — there’s a need for greater consistency — especially in timely moments from the position.
“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 following the Texas Tech loss.
The same could be applied to Bortenschlager and the offense against Central Michigan. Through the air, Bortenschlager set a career-high in passing yards, going 20-of-38 for 395 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The 395 yards was the most by a Panther quarterback since Paul McCall threw for 400 yards against FAU in Shula Bowl VII. On the season, Bortenschlager is only completing 54.3% of his passes. The offensive line will also be looking for a rebound performance after allowing five sacks and the aforementioned struggles opening up holes in the run game.
Defensively, the FIU secondary will look to bounce back following a fourth quarter that saw the unit allow over 200 yards of passing and over 400 against Texas Tech the week prior. Cornerback Rishard Dames had arguably the best outing of his career, recording five tackles, one sack, one interception, a blocked punt and a scoop-and-score on the play. Safety Dorian Hall also had an excellent outing with 11 tackles and two pass breakups.
They’ll be depended on to force FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry into a second-consecutive subpar outing. The FIU run defense had its first major setback of 2021, allowing CMU running back Lew Nichols to rush for 152 yards and the Chippewas as a team to top 200. Kicker Chase Gabriel will look to rebound after missing his only attempt of last week, a 28-yard kick that badly missed in the fourth quarter of the loss.
Florida Atlantic Preview
Willie Taggart’s club are looking for a rebound performance of their own following a 31-7 thrashing at the hands of Air Force’s triple-option offense. The Owls allowed 446 yards rushing and four touchdowns to the Falcons, quickly falling behind by three scores in Colorado Springs. While the defense did have their struggles, it would be short-sighted to dismiss the offensive futility that put the Owls’ defense in less than desirable situations. Quarterback N’Kosi Perry had arguably the worst game of his collegiate career, going 11-of-33 passing for 78 yards with one interception in the loss.
Perry will look to get back on track against the Panther secondary that are having their own struggles defending the pass. Getting freshman wideout LaJohntay Wester involved early will help right the FAU passing attack. The 5-11, 163-pound Wester is having an excellent “super” freshman season with 24 catches for 276 yards and two scores through four games.
The 24 grabs are good enough to rank fourth among Conference USA wide receivers. Additionally, the offense as a whole will look to start quickly. Of the 104 points scored by Florida Atlantic this season, only 31 have come in the first half — and just seven have come in the opening quarter of play.
Defensively, the Owls are more than talented enough to have a rebound performance against an FIU offense that’s still finding their way. Keep an eye on the FAU secondary against FIU receivers Bryce Singleton and Tyrese Chambers. Safety Teja Young is quietly having an excellent season as he looks to break out amongst a very deep group of C-USA safeties. The redshirt sophomore has 24 tackles and is tied for second in the league with two interceptions.
Although both teams have arrived at Shula Bowl XX in vastly different ways, they both are in desperate need of a win. For FIU, after opening the season 1-3, they open C-USA play against an opponent they haven’t defeated since 2016, followed by a stretch that sees them take on a 3-1 Charlotte team, Marshall and Western Kentucky. The Owls entered the season with high hopes and can still realize all of their goals. However, there’s no doubt that the FAU fanbase would go into panic mode with a 2-3 start that includes a loss to arch-rival FIU.
If FIU are able to devlop an offensive rhythm early and force FAU into another slow start, they have enough talent to make things interesting in the second half. Chambers, along with Bryce Singelton and tight end Rivaldo Fairweather are all dangerous weapons. However, Florida Atlantic boasts five running backs who are all capable of greatly testing FIU’s shaky run defense, along with a defensive line that the FIU offensive line will be challenged by.
Final Score: Florida Atlantic 31, FIU 20