FIU Panthers (1-2, 0-1 Conference USA) vs New Mexico State (1-4 FBS Independent)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 1st, 8:00 PM EST/6:00 PM Las Cruces Time
TV: FloSports/Bally Sports Arizona/Comcast New Mexico (Play-By-Play: Adam Young/Analyst: Danny Knee/Sidelines: Andy Morgan)
Radio: WQBA 1140 AM Univision Radio South Florida (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)/KXPZ 99.5 Aggie Sports Network (Play-By-Play: Jack Nixon/Analyst: Corey Lucas)
Location: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, NM
Betting Line: New Mexico State -14.5 O/U 56.5
All-Time Series Record: NMSU leads 1-0 (New Mexico State won last matchup 56-31 in 2004)
While the idiom “there’s nowhere to go but up” is often used — it’s completely appropriate for Mike MacIntyre’s FIU team coming off of last Saturday’s 73-0 loss at Western Kentucky — the largest margin of defeat in program history.
“You can point the finger a million different ways, but everyone involved in this program needs to point the finger inward,” said MacIntyre. “Today was a tough day, no doubt about it, but we as a program have to get better, coaches, players everyone involved and we’ll come back Monday and find a way to do that.”
Since the team’s season-opening win against FCS Bryant, MacIntyre’s young team has struggled in virtually every facet of the game. Offensively, they’ve rushed 55 times for just 123 yards (2.2 yards per attempt) and the passing game has been equally stifled, averaging a paltry 6.1 yards per completion. As a result, the offense has converted seven of 31 third-down opportunities and Daton Montiel has punted 18 times in the last two outings.
In order for the FIU offense to get jumpstarted, it will have to start with better play across an offensive line that is featuring four first-time starters — with two starters battling injuries. Tuesday’s depth chart saw true freshman John Bock listed as a starter at center after playing extensively at the spot the last two weeks with redshirt sophomore Julius Pierce battling a high-ankle sprain. Sophomore Sam Hill has been inserted at left guard with Bock sliding over to center after starting the opener at left guard.
“We’re still trying some guys at different spots and seeing where they fit,” said MacIntyre. “Hopefully, we can get Lyndell back and Bock we feel is taking some steps, yes it was ugly and we have a lot of improvement to do, but I think those guys will continue to improve.”
As has been the case throughout the season, the FIU quarterback situation is still a storyline to watch. Sophomore Grayson James earned the start last week at Western Kentucky, but was pulled in the early part of the first half in favor of third-year player Haden Carlson, before James finished the contest.
Combined, James and Carlson went 19-of-36 for 124 yards with one interception.
Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg, who started the season opener before suffering a concussion in the third quarter of that game was the third quarterback, dealing with a shoulder injury.
Star wideout Tyrese Chambers has been relatively quiet since his two-touchdown performance in the season opener. Chambers was held to one reception for 17 yards last Saturday.
Of note, Chambers has worked exclusively on the outside after playing roughly 30% of his snaps last season in the slot.
Defensively, the team are still adjusting to playing in MacIntyre’s 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt. While the group has six sacks in the first three games, getting pressure on the opposing signal-callers has been spotty, especially in last week’s loss to Western Kentucky.
The front seven will look to get nose guard Davon Strickland and outside linebacker Shaun Peterson Jr. back after missing last week’s game, which should help generate more of a pass rush.
FIU’s secondary will look to bounce back after consecutive rough outings. Against Texas State, true freshman Hezekiah Masses allowed two long touchdown receptions and was replaced by Syracuse transfer Adrian Cole, who played WKU wideout Malachi Corley admirably, but allowed a touchdown of his own last Saturday.
New Mexico State Preview
Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill was somewhat of a surprising choice as New Mexico State’s next head coach, following his tenure with the Golden Gophers coming to an end because of health issues.
Kill suffered a seizure during a game at Southern Illinois in 2005 followed by a kidney cancer diagnosis. He was hospitalized on multiple occasions between 2010 and 2013, with each time occurring on a gameday. The now 61-year-old Kill offered his resignation at Minnesota midway through 2015.
All of this is to offer that taking over a program that has been a doormat for the better part of a decade didn’t seem like the obvious next career move, however, Kill is one win away from equaling the Aggies’ win total from all of 2021 and the team has played opponents close in two of their four losses.
In last Saturday’s 45-26 win over Hawaii at home, the Aggies exploded for 357 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, led by running back Star Thomas who 144 yards on 11 carries and true freshman quarterback Gavin Frakes who had 78 yards on six attempts.
Frakes has shared time with Diego Pavia at quarterback in the first five games, but should be the starter entering the Florida International game.
“Our defense gives us a really good look in practice with the RPO so that helps me make quick decisions,” said Frakes. “I have to do a better job with my ball placement in the second half, but I think we’re getting some things going as an offense.”
Defensively, keep an eye on linebacker Chris Ojoh. The 6-1, 225-pound senior leads the team in tackles with 38 and sacks with two.
While both of these teams are clearly in rebuild mode, New Mexico State’s starting lineup features 16 upperclassmen and 11 returning starters — a sharp contrast from the FIU lineup that wields 19 first-time starters with 11 of those being freshmen or sophomores.
How the Panthers respond coming off the worst game in program history and a cross-country flight to New Mexico will be telling. However, Jerry Kill’s program is clearly in better shape and in a better position to build off last week’s victory over Hawaii.
Final Score: New Mexico State 31, FIU 10