Either FIU or UMass will have its first win of the season by Saturday night in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Panthers and Minutemen enter Saturday's game each at 0-2. UMass earned its first win of 2015 against FIU, 24-14 in Amherst. However, as you might imagine these are different teams in a different season.
FIU comes to the Bay State trying to establish some consistency with its offense after averaging 13.5 points per game against Indiana and Maryland to start the season. Although UMass is not a Big Ten team, the Minutemen have a good defense that won't make it easy for the Panthers. The UMass defense kept Florida and Boston College in check until a couple of late game touchdowns by the Gators and Eagles gave UF and BC breathing room against the Minutemen.
Alex Gardner helped FIU get its running game going last week with 109 yards and a touchdown. Now another Alex as in quarterback Alex McGough and the Panthers receivers seek to get the aerial part of the offense moving forward. McGough has thrown four interceptions this season, including three pick sixes. He had only eight interceptions all of last season. FIU receivers have dropped passes and at times run the wrong route. So the passing game struggles aren't pinned on any one player.
FIU will need to get its running game going to help against the UMass pass rush on McGough. If not the Minutemen will tee off with their pass rush and make it a long afternoon for the FIU offense. Gardner, Anthony Jones and possibly the debut of burly freshman running back Shawndarrius Phillips can help neutralize the UMass pressure.
Outside of running back Marquise Young, who rushed for 1,004 yards and seven TDs last season, the Minutemen are starting anew with their offense. Gone are top playmakers, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and receiver Tajae Sharpe, who took it to FIU last season. Frohnapfel threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns against FIU. Sharpe had 159 receiving yards and a score against the Panthers.
Like FIU, UMass has struggled to find its footing on offense thus far with new sophomore quarterback Ross Comis throwing for 141 yards against UF and 145 yards against BC. Young rushed for just 59 yards against UF and 27 yards against BC. But FIU yielded 246 and 239 yards on the ground to Indiana and Maryland, respectively. Yes, UMass is not on the same level as Indiana and Maryland but FIU has to treat the Minutemen running game like it is a Big Ten attack or the Panthers could get run over.
With two offenses trying to get going, Saturday's game might be a low-scoring contest which could be decided by which defense makes a momentum-shifting type play or possibly a special teams play decides the second of four meetings between FIU and UMass.
The City of Neon Lights feels the same way of how this game might play out. Wayne Newton's adopted hometown thinks FIU is a Garo Yepremian jersey number better than UMass. Weather should not be a factor at all for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday where the temperature is expected to be 75 degrees, sunny and a 0% chance of rain. Nice fall weather in Massachusetts and the Panthers hope for a nice plane ride back to Miami.