The Bulldogs come to Miami as the top offense in Conference USA averaging 41.6 points per game and 550 total yards per game. Since Ron Cooper took over as FIU's interim head coach, the Panthers are scoring 31.6 points per game. Yes, for those who look at the glass half empty, FIU scored those points against the bottom tier of C-USA in Florida Atlantic, UTEP and Charlotte but the Panthers still had to move the ball downfield and didn't do that against lowly UMass.
FIU is riding the momentum right now with its first three-game winning streak since 2011 when those Panthers opened the season 3-0 and had another three-game win streak late in the season before going to the St. Petersburg Bowl. But these Panthers will need more than momentum to take down the Bulldogs, arguably the best team in Conference USA.
FIU needs to execute offensively, especially on third down. Last week against Charlotte, the Panthers were just 3 of 11 on third down conversions. That conversion rate will not get it done against La. Tech. FIU must do better in order to not only get in a position to score but to also keep the Bulldogs high-powered offense on the sideline.
The Panthers will need to run the ball as proficiently as they did against Florida Atlantic and UTEP. FIU had its most and second most rushing attempts in a game this season in those two contests. The Panthers rushed 49 times against the Owls and had 44 attempts against the Miners. It's no coincidence the rushing success in those two games led to FIU wins.
Last week, FIU had to rely on its passing game to comeback and defeat Charlotte. This might be the case against La. Tech. By now the Bulldogs have seen film of that game and saw the 49ers have success stacking the box against FIU rushers. The Panthers had just 39 rushing yards on 21 attempts last week. It won't be easy against La. Tech. The Bulldogs have the second best rushing defense in C-USA allowing 142 yards per game.
I have a feeling that La. Tech's defensive game plan will be to make FIU beat them through the air. Therefore quarterback Alex McGough and FIU receivers will need to play like they did in the fourth quarter last week when the Panthers rallied from 13 points down in the final 7:12 of the game. The Bulldogs can be thrown on as they allow 293 passing yards per game which ranks 10 of 13 teams in C-USA.
The FIU defense, especially the secondary will be tested by La. Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins (No. 2 in the nation with 2,353 passing yards) and stalwart receivers Trent Taylor (No. 1 in the nation with 987 receiving yards) and Carlos Henderson (No. 3 in the nation with 884 receiving yards). The trio is the main reason the Bulldogs have the No. 4 total offense (550 yards per game) in the nation -- only Louisville, Texas Tech and Toledo put up more yards per game than La. Tech. The Bulldogs also have the No. 2 passing offense in the nation (383 yards per game), only Texas Tech (510.8 yards per game) has more passing yards per game.
Although the passing game is the bread and butter of the La. Tech offense, FIU cannot forget about running back Jarred Craft, who averages 6.7 yards per carry. The Panthers have struggled defending the run most of the season having allowed more than 200 rushing yards in five of their seven games.
I'm not so sure FIU can get into a points-fest with La. Tech. That's why I think the Panthers have to have success running the ball, controlling the clock and keeping Higgins and company off the gridiron.
Weather for kickoff Saturday night at 7 p.m. will be chamber of commerce type weather -- 76 degrees, no chance of rain. By the way, I'll be doing the FIU football radio broadcast Saturday with Josh Appel on 790 AM The Ticket.
The City of Neon Lights thinks La. Tech is a Joe Montana jersey number better than FIU which is probably more indicative of how good the Bulldogs offense is than anything else. This will be the best offense that the FIU defense will see all season. Prediction here, if FIU beats La. Tech then the Panthers will get at least two more wins in their final four games and go to a bowl game.