The Conference USA gauntlet continues for FIU Saturday in Bowling Green, Kentucky when the Panthers take on another juggernaut offense in the WKU Hilltoppers. WKU averages 41.6 points per game and 506 yards of total offense per game. Another staunch test for the FIU defense.
The last two weeks against explosive offenses in Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee, the FIU defense bent but didn't break. The Panthers held their own and gave the FIU offense a chance. They'll need to do the same or better against WKU.
Mike White has ably replaced Brandon Doughty at quarterback for WKU. Doughty, who set just about every WKU passing record, is now on the Miami Dolphins practice squad. White has been almost as good as Doughty throwing for 2,783 yards (2nd in C-USA) with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions.
WKU can beat you on the ground or through the air. Running back Anthony Wales leads C-USA with 13 touchdowns and has rushed for 825 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Hilltoppers have two receivers that have combined for 19 touchdowns. Taywan Taylor (1,077 yards, 9 TDs) and Nicholas Norris (868, 10 TDs) have caught the bulk of White's passes.
Middle Tennessee jumped on FIU last week for 21 quick points in the first six minutes of the game. The Panthers cannot have a repeat of that, especially on the road. Just remember in the season finale last year, WKU smoked FIU 63-7.
Give the FIU defense credit last week. The Blue Raiders had 209 total yards after scoring those 21 points with nine minutes left in the first quarter. FIU allowed just 256 total yards the rest of the game -- that would be the final 54 minutes of the game.
Still, FIU needs a fast start at WKU. Like the game plan has been the past two weeks, FIU also needs to establish the run game. The Panthers ran for 203 yards against the Blue Raiders and by doing so limited the possessions of the MT offense. FIU doubled MT in time of possession 40 to 20 minutes last week. More of that will be needed in Bowling Green.
WKU has the top scoring defense in C-USA allowing 26.1 points per game and the top rushing defense in the conference yielding 108 yards per game. The Hilltoppers allow 280 passing yards per game, near the bottom of the conference. FIU might have to test that area of the WKU defense.
With the loss last week FIU (3-6) will need to win out to become bowl-eligible. It's certainly a tall order with WKU being the first of the final three games of the regular season. But if the last two weeks against two of the better teams in the conference is any indication, the Panthers will battle and compete. FIU just has to limit the mistakes and get off to a better start at WKU.