The last plane road trip of the season sends FIU to a place where it has never played football before and probably won't play football again for a while -- South Alabama. Although, with the Sun Belt Conference/Conference USA bowl tie-ins don't be surprised to see the Panthers play against Sun Belt teams in future postseasons.
You can hear Saturday's game on the FIU Sports Radio Network by CLICKING HERE with myself and Jerry del Castillo calling the game. There is no TV or videostream of the game. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. The pregame show begins at 3 p.m.
South Alabama is in its fourth year of football and final transition season as they move to Division I and the Sun Belt Conference. Despite the Jaguars recent FCS classification this is not a team to be taken lightly, especially the way South Alabama has performed against Sun Belt foes of late.
Since the Jaguars settled on a quarterback, Ross Metheny, their offense has started scoring points more consistently. Three games ago, Metheny stopped splitting snaps with C.J. Bennett and South Alabama has scored 90 points since, an average of 30 points per game. Back when Bill Parcells still knew football, when he was the New York Giants coach, he said if you have two quarterbacks then you really have none. SA has settled on one quarterback.
In its last three games, SA scored 29 points on Arkansas State and 24 points on ULM -- two of the better teams in the SBC, and scored 37 points on Florida Atlantic for the Jaguars' first-ever Division I and Sun Belt win, 37-34 in double overtime.
Metheny operates a spread offense for the Jags and although he is not the running threat of say ULM's Kolton Browning or ASU's Ryan Aplin, he can make plays with his feet. So the Panthers defense is going against a mobile quarterback, which has been an issue before.
The Jaguars are a balanced offense with running back Demetre Baker (5.0 yards per carry, 3 TDs) and receiver Jereme Jones (5 TDs). However, South Alabama has had trouble getting off to fast starts on offense and defense. The Jags have been outscored 147-68 in the first half (66-38 in the first quarter and 81-30 in the second quarter). Here is where the Panthers can try and take control of the game and eliminate any hope SA has of an upset.
Despite giving up nearly 30 points per game (29.5), the SA defense is not that bad, ranking in the upper echelon of the Sun Belt in both run and pass defense.
FIU quarterback Jake Medlock is healthy and will start Saturday. Medlock needs to keep feeding his two big physical receivers in Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman, especially against SA's cornerbacks that are 5-10 and under.
Running back Kedrick Rhodes might be limited again Saturday so Darian Mallary is expected to get the bulk of the carries and Shane Coleman could also get in the mix.
At 1-8, this game could be as much a mental as a physical test for the Panthers. Yes, South Alabama is transitioning to Division I, but it has been playing better of late. Talking to people from Mobile earlier this week, the Jaguars feel good about an upset Saturday. FIU has to make SA feel bad early by stuffing the Jags offense, and the Panthers offense needs to score some early touchdowns to quell any thoughts of a second SBC win for SA.