Lost in the shadow of an offense that is struggling versus pretty much any solid program is a FIU Panthers defense that is very good.
The Panthers defense has given up fewer than 30 points in every game in 2015; the final touchdown in the Indiana game was a defensive touchdowns by the Hoosiers. FIU held Indiana to below their average, held Louisiana Tech to 27 points, held UMass to 24, and completely dominated a woeful UTEP squad.
How are the Panthers hanging in these games with a chance to win, despite having an offense that is so terrible? The answer is one of the best defenses in Conference USA, also one of the best G5 defenses overall.
FIU is not a defense that will go out and stuff you on every single play. They have a much different plan that includes impatience as a key. The defense ranks #88 in success rate, allowing a successful play on 43.8% of all plays. Normally, that would be a very bad statistic, but for this defense it is all part of the game. They will allow offenses to get yards on most plays, but rarely allow anyone to turn a positive play into an explosive play.
The IsoPPP of the FIU defense is #16 nationally at 1.09. That means that only 15 teams in the country do a better job of keeping successful plays from turning into game breaking plays. The number drops to 0.89 versus the run with linebackers Anthony Wint (45 tkl, 4 tfl, 1 int) and Treyvon Williams (33 tkl, 1.5 tfl) ready to stop the ball carrier. A stuff rate of 22.1% is very impressive, considering the offenses they have faced in 2015. In allowing 3.5 yards per carry and 137.0 yards per game, the run defense forces offenses to go to the air way too often.
Where FIU really excels is when a team crosses their 40-yard line. The Panthers are in the top 20 nationally in allowing only 3.63 points per trip inside the 40. That is almost a full point better than the national average. What is the most amazing part of their success is the inability to force turnovers. The defense has only five interceptions and no fumble recoveries on the year. They do a very good job of getting into the backfield once teams get past the 40-yard line with 40 tackles for loss on the season, good for nearly seven per game.
When forcing offenses to pass the football, FIU is again among the best in limiting explosive plays. The defense has a passing IsoPPP of 1.28 on the season, good for #22 nationally. The Panthers are able to put just enough pressure on the quarterback to allow a talented secondary to be in position to make plays. Defensive end Denzell Perine (16 tkl, 6.5 tfl, 4 sacks) is a legitimate NFL prospect with the ability to put pressure on the passing game unlike many on a G5 roster. Mike Wakefield (21 ykl, 7 tfl, 2.5 sacks) and Lars Koht (25 tkl, 4 tfl, 2 sacks) are also able to garner pressure on a very talented defensive line. Cornerback Richard Leonard (36 tkl, 1.5 tfl) has been avoided mostly in the passing game, but he has proven to be an effective tackler and multi-dimensional player. He will be on an NFL roster in 2016.
Overall, the Panthers have given up only 15 plays of 20 yards or more on the season. That is including the offenses of Louisiana Tech (#17 nationally), Massachusetts (#27 nationally), and Indiana (#31 nationally). This may be the year that the Florida International defense drags the program kicking and screaming into six wins and bowl contention.