They say you need to win three games in a row for it to count as a winning streak. Well, consider FIU on a winning streak after its 27-26 comeback win against Charlotte last Saturday in the Tar Heel State. The Panthers (3-4, 3-0 Conference USA) are the current East Division leaders with Old Dominion (2-0 in C-USA) one-half game behind.
Although some will argue the Panthers have won three games against some of the worst teams in the conference, you still have to win those games and that's what FIU has done. Now come Saturday, FIU will be tested like they haven't been tested all season with the arrival of Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs have the best offense FIU will have seen on its 2016 schedule to date. La. Tech averages 41.6 points per game and 550 total yards per contest.
La. Tech can hit a defense with a strong running game and/or its aerial show comprised of quarterback Ryan Higgins (2,353 passing yards, 22 TDs, 3 INTs) and dynamic receivers Trent Taylor (987 yards, 8 TDs) and Carlos Henderson (884 yards, 10 TDs), who just piled up 326 receiving yards and five touchdowns against UMass last week. The same UMass team that FIU could only score 13 points against.
Gone is La. Tech running back Kenneth Dixon to the NFL and replacing him is Jarred Craft, who has rushed for 722 yards (6.7 yards-per-carry) and four touchdowns. The Bulldogs average 167 yards on the ground per game which is not good news for an FIU defense that has allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game in five of its seven games this season, including last Saturday when the 49ers ran for 232 yards.
Say this about the FIU defense's bend-but-don't-break performance last week, the Panthers made the stops when they had to and for the most part contained running quarterback Hasaan Klugh.
This week the onus will be on the FIU secondary against Taylor (5-8, 175 pounds) and Henderson (5-11, 185 pounds), who are not the biggest receivers but they are quick and shifty. FIU's secondary hasn't really been challenged much this season because opponents have been able to run on the Panthers. That will change against La. Tech because the Bulldogs love to throw the ball around.
One effective way to combat the vaunted La. Tech offense is of course to score more points than the Bulldogs. However, if FIU can run the ball and control the clock that will help as well. It won't be easy.
Charlotte used eight and nine-man fronts against FIU and effectively shut down the FIU run to the tune of just 39 yards rushing. La. Tech's run defense has been better of late allowing 113 yards per game in the last three. This was after South Carolina State (156 yards), Texas Tech (196 yds) and Middle Tennessee (197 yds) ran at will against La. Tech.
The Panthers had to rely on the passing game to rally against Charlotte. Quarterback Alex McGough (315 yards) spread the ball to eight different receivers against the 49ers, including another good game from Thomas Owens (11 catches, 148 yards). More of the same may be needed against La. Tech. The Bulldogs are allowing 330 passing yards per conference game thus far, including 356 yards at Middle Tennessee.
FIU showed some moxie against Charlotte not panicking in the final seven minutes of the game while down 13 points. The players kept their heads up and the sideline had plenty of energy, an intangible that has helped this team in the last three games. FIU has trailed in each of its last three games and were down twice in the Shula Bowl against Florida Atlantic before winning the game. There is a quiet confidence in this team, a team that will have its most stern test come Saturday.