FIU visits Charlotte for the first time in its football program history Saturday. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 48-31 last season at FIU Stadium. FIU (2-4, 2-0 Conference USA) comes into Saturday's game at Jerry Richardson Stadium having won its last two games. Charlotte (2-4, 1-1) defeated Florida Atlantic 28-23 in Boca Raton on Sunday.
After rushing for 258 yards against UTEP last Saturday, FIU has now run for 528 yards in its last two games. The FIU offensive line has opened up holes for Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones. The success running the ball has lit a fire under the FIU offense and allowed quarterback Alex McGough more time to throw the ball. FIU's running prowess also kept the Panthers defense off the field in the high-altitude environment of El Paso. FIU controlled the clock for 35 minutes on Saturday.
The Charlotte defense is yielding nearly 500 total yards per game with 172 yards per game coming on the ground. So it could be another successful Saturday for the FIU running game.
The 49ers made a switch at quarterback against FAU benching Kevin Olsen, formerly of the Coral Gables school, and inserting the more mobile Hasaan Klugh. FIU defenses have had trouble in the past dealing with quarterbacks that can run and Klugh should pose that challenge Saturday. He averages 5.9 yards per carry. Klugh can also throw the ball. He is a very efficient 32 of 44 (73 percent completion percentage) for 376 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
Like FIU, the 49ers can run the ball. They have three running backs averaging 4.7 yards per carry or more. Kalif Phillips leads the backs rushing for 336 yards on the season. Robert Washington (293 yards, 3 TDs) and Ben Lemay (165 yards) are the other two running backs. All three Charlotte backs have good size which could be a problem. Phillips weighs 221 pounds, Lemay is 216 and Washington is 220.
FIU did a good job stopping the UTEP run last Saturday allowing 139 yards with 49 of those yards coming on Aaron Jones's touchdown run. Jones, who is one of the top backs in Conference USA, was held to 73 yards. It marked just the second time in six games this season that the Panthers held the opponent to less than 200 rushing yards in a game. That will have to continue with the triple threat 49ers backs.
Austin Duke (32 receptions, 408 yards, 3 TDs) and T.L. Ford (22 rec., 315 yds, 3 TDs) are the two main receivers with Ford having good size at 6-3. Duke is 5-9, 161 pounds.
FIU's secondary played well against UTEP allowing just 191 passing yards. Isaiah Brown got his first career interception and almost had two picks when a pass earlier in the game just eluded him. Brown's size (6-1) might come into play Saturday if he's assigned to cover Ford.
Once again you saw a more animated FIU sideline in El Paso. You can't emphasize enough how much of an intangible that is for the Panthers on the field. FIU is playing with a lot more confidence and belief that is translating on the field.
Although the Panthers' confidence is up, FIU coaches are keeping the team from getting too overconfident especially facing a 49ers team that is just in its second season of Division I college football. FIU interim coach Ron Cooper said the Panthers just have to look at yesterday's game in Boca Raton where Charlotte defeated FAU. During the taping of FIU Football Weekly this morning, McGough said offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler reminds the team that they are "not the New England Patriots" that they can't take anyone lightly and have to go out and play hard every game.