Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (2-5, 1-2 Conference USA) vs FIU Panthers (3-4, 1-2 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Friday, October 28, 8:00 PM EST
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Carter Blackburn/Analyst: Robert Turbin)
Radio: WQBA 1140 AM Univision Radio South Florida (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)/KXKZ 107.5 FM Ruston - Monroe (Play-By-Play: Malcolm Butler/Analyst: Teddy Allen)
Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: La Tech -6.5 O/U 57
All-Time Series Record: Louisiana Tech leads 4-0 (La Tech won the previous matchup 43-31 in 2019)
Matching up: FIU offense vs. LA Tech defense
Newly-minted starting quarterback Grayson James guided the unit to their best performance of the season, accounting for over 350 total yards and three touchdowns last weekend.
After beginning the year the backup, the sophomore has started the previous six games and during his Tuesday presser, MacIntyre announced that James will be the starter for the foreseeable future.
“He’s our starter now, each week I’ve seen improvement in him,” said MacIntyre. “How he’s practiced has shown up on the field.”
Against a Tech defense that’s struggled mightily overall but especially against the run, James’ dual-threat abilities will be key to an FIU victory.
After struggling to close drives against UConn and UTSA, the Panthers red zone woes were solved via James’ legs against Charlotte. Following the game, James noted that there was a gameplan to get him involved in those situations.
“We just needed another hat in the run game and I have the ability to use my legs, it’s a part of my game that I enjoy,” said James.
If the Panthers can find success in the run game and stay out of third-and-long situations, putting the ball in the hands of a rejuvenated Tyrese Chambers will be key.
After missing the UTSA game, Chambers hauled in a career-high 10 receptions for 143 yards in Saturday’s win. Also, fellow wideout Kris Mitchell had a career day with his eight receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.
“Kris is a guy who is legit 4.3 guy and had a really good spring and fall but was banged up a bit, but he always kept his head up and when his opportunity came, he’s was ready,” said receivers coach Jay MacIntyre.
Defensively, the Bulldogs lost the heart of their unit in linebacker Tyler Grubbs to a season-ending injury two weeks ago and are awaiting word as to if veteran defensive back Bee Jay Williamson will play.
“He’s a really good play, you see guys flash when you’re watching other teams and he’s one of those guys that catches your attention,” said MacIntyre.
Matching up: FIU defense vs. LA Tech offense
First-year Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie comes from the much-ballyhooed Mike Leach coaching tree, which features multiple variants of the Air Raid offense.
The former Texas Tech quarterback and offensive coordinator has wasted no time implementing his system in Ruston, guiding the Tech offense to 915 passing yards and an average of 36.3 points in their last three outings.
All of this will make for another opportunity for the FIU defense to show that they’re making strides now at the midway mark of the season.
Defensive end/linebacker Shaun Peterson Jr. racked up 3.5 sacks while forcing and recovering a fumble in last Saturday’s win over Charlotte.
The redshirt junior ranks third in Conference USA in sacks (5) and leads the league in forced fumbles (2). He, along with fellow edge rushers Alex Nobles and Jeramy Passmore should have opportunities to pick up where they left off last week against a Tech offensive line that’s shuffled through several players at the tackle spot due to injuries.
In the secondary, sophomore cornerback Andrew Volmar had the best game of his career, notching his first career interception and blanketing Charlotte wideout Grant DuBose throughout the contest.
“Andrew Volmar from spring practice through fall camp and to now is probably the most improved player on our defense,” said MacIntyre. “The play he made where he pressed the receiver, ran down the field and picked it off, he couldn’t do that in spring, he’s a really good player,” said MacIntyre following the game.
Volmar, along with safeties Demetrius Hill and Dorian Hall will be tasked with slowing down another capable passing attack in Louisiana Tech’s, who enter Friday’s contest averaging 290 yards per game through the air, ranking third in C-USA.
Tech’s primary starting quarterback Parker McNeil and backup Matthew Downing were injured last week, leading to true freshman Landry Lyddy finishing the contest.
McNeil has thrown for 1,623 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions on the year, while Lyddy earned his first game action and went 5-of-8 with two passing scores in the loss. During Cumbie’s media availability, he intimated that it would be game-time decision as to if McNeil will be ready and should he not play, Lyddy or sophomore Jack Turner will start.
Whoever starts the game will look towards the duo of Tre and Smoke Harris at receiver. The wideouts have combined for 74 receptions and 1,012 yards with 11 scores this year.
“When you watch Louisiana Tech on film, you better know where Harris is (Tre and Smoke) they’re excellent playmakers for them,” said MacIntyre.
Also keep an eye on receiver-turned-tight end Griffin Hebert. The veteran has hauled in 20 receptions for 403 yards and three scores this year.
“He’s a hybrid, he’ll play all over,” said MacIntyre. “He’s really fast, you can see his speed and length on film,” said MacIntyre.