Perfect weather is expected when FIU takes on No. 25 Marshall at 6 p.m. Saturday from FIU Stadium. It is expected to be 81 degrees with low humidity, sunny and without a cloud in the sky at kickoff. Such perfect weather that Mike Levine and I are thinking of doing our radio broadcast of the game from outside our new radio suite.
As always you can hear the call of FIU football on ESPN 1210 AM on Saturday with Mike and yours truly starting at 5:30 p.m. with the pregame show where we will be joined by former FIU linebacker James Knapp. Initially, WBFS Channel 33 in South Florida was going to pick up the ASN broadcast and televise the game, but now they are not.
However, for you out-of-town good people or those who cannot get to the stadium, you can now watch the game on FIUSports.com. But the videostream on the FIU website will pick up the ASN broadcast so I suggest you turn down the volume on the videostream and listen to Mike and I on ESPN 1210 AM.
Believe it or not Saturday's game between the Panthers (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) and Thundering Herd (6-0, 2-0) is for first place in Conference USA's East Division. Not too many people would have thought seven weeks into the 2014 season that FIU would be playing for first place in its division. But that's the case and it shows how FIU has improved from a year ago.
Like the expected weather on Saturday, FIU will need to play a near perfect game to upset heavily favored Marshall. The city of neon lights feels stronger today than it did earlier in the week about a Herd win as those folks think Marshall is now more than three touchdowns better than FIU. But no one knows for sure until they play the game at FIU Stadium. Here is how FIU would stand alone in first place on Sunday morning:
LONG DRIVES: Through most of this season the FIU offense has had trouble sustaining drives. The result is a lot of time on the field for the FIU defense, which is not a bad thing because the Panthers have a stout defense but all that time on the field can eventually wear out the defense. If FIU is going to beat a Top 25 team that is solid all around, then the Panthers will need to collect a bunch of first downs and score touchdowns and not field goals. You are not going to beat Marshall kicking field goals. Too many three-and-outs by the FIU offense will give back the football to Rakeem Cato and the Herd's explosive offense too many times. No bueno there.
GROUND POUND: In order to sustain those drives FIU MUST establish a productive ground game against the second best defense in Conference USA (FIU has the No. 1 D in C-USA). Not only will an effective run game keep the Herd defense honest from teeing off on quarterback Alex McGough but a good run game will chew clock and keep the Herd offense off the field. FIU has developed a nice 1-2 punch with bigger ballcarrier Anthon Samuel and the speedy Alex Gardner. Get a running game going and watch how McGough gets more time to throw and more open receivers.
MAKE CATO UNCOMFORTABLE AT HOME: Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato is back home again in Miami Saturday. Cato played his high school ball at Miami Central and was an FIU recruit before signing with Marshall. The FIU defense has to make Cato feel like he wants to go back to Huntington, West Virginia. Of course, the Panthers would love to sack Cato numerous times but even if they don't get to him all the time FIU must hit him, like Michael Wakfield (photo above) did in last year's game, or fluster him where he has to get rid of the ball early and make bad decisions in the passing game. FIU certainly has the defense to make this happen like the Panthers did to another Central quarterback back in 2011 when UCF's Jeffrey Godfrey had a terrible game in a 17-10 FIU win. Unfortunately, Cato is not the only challenge for the FIU defense as the Panthers will also have to corral monstrous and speedy running back Devon Johnson (6-1, 245 pounds). The tight end-turned-running back leads the conference with 814 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an astounding 7.8 yards-per-carry.
OFFENSE FROM DEFENSE OR SPECIAL TEAMS: It's no secret the FIU offense has struggled at times this season. Against a team like Marshall, the Panthers defense or special teams will need to help produce points not only for FIU's chances at victory but also to help give FIU some momentum. Recall FIU's 16-0 start against Pittsburgh where the Panthers got a safety on Jeremiah McKinnon's sack of Chad Voytik in the end zone to spur that fast start. FIU, which leads the nation in turnovers gained, could also use turnovers returned for touchdowns like it had against UAB and Florida Atlantic. It will sound like a cliche but FIU needs a total team effort Saturday to defeat mighty Marshall.