Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, Florida
Kick Off: 6 pm CT
TV: CW35 (San Antonio)
Live Stats: Side Arm Sports
Audio: Ticket 760
Betting Odds: UTSA -4.5, O/U 51.5
Series History: UTSA won the only meeting in the series 16-13 in San Antonio in 2014.
Team Records: FIU (5-2), UTSA (5-2)
Much akin to UTSA, Florida International has taken a rocky path to their 5-2 start on the season. After getting smoked by UCF to start the year the Panthers snuck by Alcorn State by a touchdown and then beat Rice and Charlotte by a combined seven points.
After an awful 37-17 loss to Middle Tennessee, FIU turned it around with their two biggest wins of the year, a 23-10 victory over Tulane and a shocking 41-30 upset of Marshall in Huntington. So are the Panthers inconsistent or improving? We’ll likely find out tomorrow.
With Butch Davis at the helm the Panthers have been well coached this season, avoiding mental mistakes while taking full advantage of the opportunities handed to them by their opponents. It’s the only real constant among their wins this season and is very much the team’s identity.
FIU’s main offensive playmaker is the physical 240 pound wide out Thomas Owens. With 40 catches on the year Owens is gaining 18.2 yards per catch and coming down with 70.2% of balls thrown his way.
Owens clearly has an effective connection with his quarterback Alex McGough. The senior hasn’t been completely lights out this year, passing seven touchdowns to six interceptions, but his leadership on the field has kept FIU’s offense chugging along. He’s passed for 1,513 yards with a 61.7% completion percentage.
While senior Alex Gardner has been FIU’s leading rusher this year the Panthers have transitioned to feeding the ball to sophomore Shawndarrius Phillips and junior Napoleon Maxwell in recent weeks. The trio has combined for 974 yards and five touchdowns with Maxwell turning in the most explosive plays past the line of scrimmage. Expect him to get plenty of touches against UTSA.
The Panthers are led defensively by senior linebacker Anthony Wint. With 36 tackles on the year, Wint has been very disciplined defending the run as he’s brought running backs down for a loss or no gain ten times this year. His downhill play could keep UTSA’s run game in check.
Undersized at just 6’2”, 235 pounds, defensive end Fermin Silva has been extremely disruptive for FIU. Silva has pitched in 11 run stuffs as well as three sacks. Silva has really been FIU’s only dependable pass rusher on the edge as the Panthers have only brought the quarterback down eight times this season.
Senior cornerback Brad Muhammad will be the man to watch in the secondary for FIU. Muhammad earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors after totaling 10 tackles and two interceptions against Marshall, including a key pick six. Muhammad also has four pass break ups on the year.
The Roadrunners haven’t turned in a complete performance since their 44-14 thrashing of Texas State on September 23rd but UTSA holds a 5-2 record all the same. Their methodical offense isn’t very pretty but it has gotten the job done for the Roadrunners this year, especially against teams with smaller defensive lines that can’t handle four quarters of the physicality UTSA brings in the ground game.
Quarterback Dalton Sturm continues to effectively lead the offense as he’s been brilliant on third downs while tossing just two interceptions on the season. The senior is completing 65% of his passes and has totaled 1,563 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also been a big factor in the run game, amassing 448 yards on the ground.
While Sturm’s play typically decides whether or not the Roadrunners will score enough points to win a game, the Roadrunners’ backfield of Jalen Rhodes and Tyrell Clay are the two most important pieces for this offense. When they’re able to follow the path blazed for them by the offensive line then the Roadrunners’ offense is one of the best in the conference. Both backs are large, physical, and hard to bring down. They’ll present a tremendous challenge for FIU’s front seven.
It’s not official but expect UTSA to be missing a major talent in sophomore All-American linebacker Josiah Tauaefa as he’s still recording from a knee injury suffered against Rice. The Roadrunners are actually in pretty great shape without Tauaefa as senior linebacker Marcos Curry has been phenomenal in his reserve role this season and played very well against UTEP last week in his first start of the season.
The Roadrunners have been excellent in all but one phase of the defense. UTSA has been giving up a lot of explosive plays on passing downs as their pressure-based defense has a bit of a boom-or-bust approach. Much less talented quarterback/wide receiver combos have been able to take advantage of this weakness so Alex McGough’s and Thomas Owen’s ability to connect on the deep ball should be a huge area of focus for UTSA.
UTSA’s goal this week should be the same as always: control the clock, wear down the defense, hit on a few deep throws, and keep the FIU offense behind the down-and-distance schedule.
FIU is kind of a tough team to get a read on due to their underwhelming wins and strange losses. Ultimately I think they’re just average when it comes to talent but Butch Davis maximizes what he has in his players, allowing the team to play beyond the sum of their parts. That’s an interesting departure from UTSA who has probably been the most talented team in all of their games this season but have squandered a chance at a perfect record by committing endless mental errors and silly penalties. I think those same mistakes will keep this game close but I see UTSA closing it out with some great runs from Tyrell Clay and Jalen Rhodes.
UTSA 28 FIU 20