FIU is done with its Big Ten schedule for 2016 and now turns its attention to UMass, whom the Panthers played for the first time last season. The Minutemen won 24-14 in a game that FIU struggled to develop any consistency on offense.
UMass opened up a 17-7 halftime lead. FIU narrowed the lead to 17-14 on a touchdown run by Alex Gardner but that was as close as the Panthers would get. FIU had only 188 total yards against UMass with 73 yards on the ground and 115 yards passing. That won't get it done in many football games.
Going back to Amherst, Massachusetts this weekend the Panthers find themselves in a similar situation. FIU has averaged just 13.5 points in its first two games and have not had much offensive consistency to start the season. Yes, the first two games were against Big Ten teams but the Panthers offense did not have much flow to it.
FIU did get its running game going last week against Maryland led by Gardner's 109 yards. The Panthers rushed for 202 yards against the Terrapins after gaining just 63 yards on the ground against Indiana.
Now let's see if FIU can get its passing game going against UMass after struggling against two Big Ten secondaries. Quarterback Alex McGough hasn't gotten off to the start that many expected completing 28 of 56 passes for 302 yards and four interceptions. McGough left the Maryland game with a back injury but coach Ron Turner said he is doing better. Redshirt freshman Maurice Alexander did a decent job in his first game going 9 of 18 for 131 yards with a touchdown pass and he ran for 30 yards.
The UMass defense has held its own through their first two games against Florida and Boston College. The Gators led 10-7 into the fourth quarter before getting two field goals and a touchdown to finish the Minutemen 24-7. The Eagles had a 13-7 lead on the Minutemen into the third quarter until, like Florida, they got two field goals and a touchdown to end any hopes for UMass in a 26-7 win.
So despite playing a former MAC team, UMass is now an Independent, this Saturday will not be an easy game for the FIU offense. Defense is the strength of the Minutemen.
Offensively, UMass lost its two top playmakers in quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and receiver Tajae Sharpe to graduation. Sophomore Ross Comis is the new quarterback and he threw for 141 yards against UF and 145 yards against BC. Running back Marquis Young is the featured ballcarrier but he also didn't get much going on the ground in the first two games. No receiver has yet to emerge as a consistent threat for UMass.
The FIU defense had its issues against the run in the first two games surrendering 246 yards to Indiana and 239 yards to Maryland. Saturday's game against UMass should be a better barometer to see where the Panthers' run defense stands. Both the Hoosiers and Terps did well through the air gaining 240 and 238 yards, respectively. FIU's secondary should have a more favorable matchup Saturday.
FIU was clearly the underdog in its first two games against more experienced and deeper Big Ten teams. Against UMass, FIU gets a matchup that is more to its level right now in college football. The game against UMass should provide a better assessment of where the Panthers are in 2016.