Florida Atlantic Owls (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) vs. FIU Panthers (4-5, 2-3 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 12, 7:00 PM
TV: Stadium (Play-By-Play: Ari Wolfe/Analyst: Shedrick Bonner)
Radio: WMEN 640 AM The Hurricane Fox Sports Radio Palm Beach (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/Analyst: Kris Bartels)/WQBA 1140 Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)
Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: FAU -15.5 O/U 54.5
All-Time Series Record: Florida Atlantic leads 15-4 (FAU won last matchup 58-21 in 2021)
After a 3-2 five-game stretch that included back-to-back wins and a solid performance against Conference USA leading UTSA, Mike MacIntyre had plenty of reason to believe that his young team was past the growing pains that the exhibited during the early part of the season.
However, the high-powered North Texas offense proved otherwise, connecting on several chunk plays early en route to a 52-14 thrashing of FIU, where the Mean Green jumped out to a 38-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
MacIntyre’s team will look to turn the page in the final Shula Bowl rivalry game until 2024, with Florida Atlantic leaving C-USA for the American at the end of this season.
“FAU is a talented team with a huge offensive line,” said MacIntyre. “Defensively, they sub in more linemen than anybody we’ve played this year — We’re expecting a good team to show up here.”
In order to stop a five-year losing streak against the Owls, the Panthers will have to rebound defensively.
Defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt’s unit should be bolstered by the return of LB/DE Shaun Peterson Jr., who is among the league leaders in sacks (5.5) and is rated by Pro Football Focus as the highest-graded pass rusher among FBS players. The redshirt junior had a non-injury related absence last week and is expected to return on Saturday.
His return should allow for further opportunities across the linebacking group, with inside linebackers Gaethan Bernadel and Donovan Manuel along with edge rusher Alex Nobles all capable of making plays behind the FAU line of scrimmage.
If FIU can get pressure, that should allow for an improved performance from the Panthers’ secondary, who MacIntyre noted during Tuesday’s media availability made some errors but also were asked to cover too long.
“We had a couple coverage breakdowns and let some guys go on some over routes and miscommunication,” said MacIntyre. “Also, a couple of them, they (North Texas) they had a chance to hold the ball a little while and covering a guy that long sometimes is tough.”
Keep an eye on cornerbacks Hezekiah Masses, Adrian Cole and Andrew Volmar, who will be tasked with covering a talented group of FAU wideouts.
“The guy that’s extremely electric is (LaJohntay) Wester, they hand him the ball, toss it to him, throw it to him and also number 86 (Jamal) Edrine is a really tall target who they get it to in the redzone,” said MacIntyre.
Cole recorded his first career interception in the loss to UNT and Volmar’s play has been noted by MacIntyre as improved throughout the season.
Offensively, FIU will hope to not have to play from behind as quickly and a large part of that will be not going three-and-out — which they did three times to open last week’s game.
“It’s really tough, we should be moving the ball better and we can’t do that, just a bad day overall,” said MacIntyre following the UNT game.
MacIntyre will look to jumpstart an FIU rushing attack that had looked to have been improving in recent weeks, but currently sits last in C-USA in yards per attempt (3.4) and in total yardage (959). All-purpose back Flex Joseph will be a factor in those efforts in addition to being a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Quarterback Grayson James will also look to rebound following a tough performance against the Mean Green. The sophomore went 19-of-35 for 130 yards with two interceptions in the loss. On the season, James has thrown for 1,850 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Look for James to use his legs to establish himself in the game and get the offense moving, which should set up opportunities for star wideout Tyrese Chambers, who had a 68-yard TD in last year’s contest.
Florida Atlantic Preview
For FAU, they head into Saturday’s Shula Bowl contest with the same record as the Panthers — but in a much different circumstance. After opening the season with a resounding victory over C-USA foe Charlotte, Willie Taggart’s club have been anything but consistent.
The Owls haven’t been able to string together back-to-back wins this year, have three losses by three points or less and took two blowout losses to North Texas and UCF. Arguably the biggest culprit has been an FAU offense that has been inconsistent, especially situationally under former Middle Tennessee State offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and quarterback N’Kosi Perry.
“His offense is very similar to Gus Malzahn’s offense, to me and then there’s the aspect of Willie Taggart’s offense thrown in there, I see aspects of both offenses combined,” said MacIntyre.
The Miami transfer has thrown for 1,989 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. However, the 56.6 completion percentage has been evident, especially when trying to move the ball in pressure situations.
Running backs Larry McCammon and Zuberi Mobley have combined for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on the season and will be depended upon to establish the Owls offense early.
“Larry (McCammon) and (Zuberi) Mobley have been playing really well for them and a lot of times they’ll have both of them in the game together,” said MacIntyre.
Defensively, a huge part of the gameplan for figuratively and literally will be nose guard Evan Anderson. The 6-3, 348-pounder is one of the top defensive tackles in the league and despite missing time this season to injury, is still noticeable to opposing teams.
“He can wreak havoc all by himself and he’s a really good player,” said MacIntyre.
Offensive line coach Greg Austin echoed the sentiments.
“He’s quick, active, thick, a good player. He’s a DL that holds his gap and we have to be 5-for-5 against him,” said Austin.
The West Orlando native will be depended upon, especially with leading tackler Eddie Williams sidelined for the rest of the season.
In the secondary, FAU has one of the top defensive backs in the league in safety Teja Young. The redshirt junior has two pick-sixes on the year and is a constant presence around the football.
“He’s a good player for them, I know he’s missed some time but I’ve been impressed with him,” said MacIntyre.
The 15.5-point spread entering Saturday’s game is a byproduct of FIU’s 73-0 loss to Western Kentucky earlier in the season and the North Texas setback. MacIntyre’s team started to play solid football in the five weeks prior.
With that being said, there are still glaring areas that the team is noticeably bad — in part because of the team’s youth.
The Panthers are last in C-USA in first downs per game and in third-down conversion percentage (122nd in FBS), which can be traced back to the lack of consistent success in the run game. While the addition of James in the rushing attack has helped, it’s hard to envision FIU finding their rushing attack with the Owls’ defensive line in the way. If this remains the same on Saturday, FIU’s chances at victory will hinge on finding chunk plays downfield to Chambers, Kris Mitchell and others.
For Florida Atlantic, it’s a matter of which version of their offense will show up. If it’s the one that was able to score at ease against Charlotte and have first-half success against Ohio, the two-score spread may be accurate. However, if Taggart’s club comes out lethargic and allows FIU to gain confidence, this could be a close contest.
In the end, look for FAU to find a way to win, but expect a motivated FIU team that’s looking to show that they belong in the rivalry game and are still competing for bowl eligibility.
Final Score: Florida Atlantic 31, FIU 24