Panthers look to stay in contention for Sun Belt title with win over WKU

Photo by Victoria Lynch

Photo by Victoria Lynch

By: Jackson Wolek / Staff Writer

The final stretch of the regular season for FIU starts Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. in Western Kentucky as the Panthers take on the Hilltoppers, one of the hottest teams in the Sun Belt with four straight wins and an overtime victory against ULM last week, to keep them in the race for the Sun Belt title.

WKU brings the number one running back in the Sun Belt, senior Bobby Rainey, who has rushes for 1014 yards and nine touchdowns through eight games.

The offense is based heavily on Rainey and the rushing attack and has gone to the ground 133 more times than through the air.

“The one thing I notice about Bobby Rainey is that as the game goes on, he gets stronger,” said head coach Mario Cristobal. “There’s a reason he’s up for the player of the year in the conference, it’s because of what he does and the fact that he does it against good opponents, during tough times and late in the game.”

However, the Panthers’ strength on defense has been stopping the run this year and is number three in the SBC by allowing 3.5 yards per carry.

“We’ve made adjustments through our calls and through our plays,” said linebacker Winston Fraiser on how the defense is preparing to stop Rainey. “Honestly it’s just executing and knowing your assignment, it’s on us as a defense to know our job and make sure we get it done.”

The other weapons that the Hilltopper offense likes to utilize are the tight ends. Junior tight end Jack Doyle is the team’s leading player in receptions with 32, and freshman tight end Mitchell Henry has caught four passes and two touchdowns in just his last two games.

Quanterus Smith has been a tough defensive lineman to handle this season and has 6.5 sacks making him second in the conference. Western Kentucky also has linebacker Andrew Jackson, leader in the conference with 81 tackles and senior Derrius Brooks, who is tops in the Sun Belt with 11 passes defended, four being for interceptions.

What has been hurting the Panther offense the most however, has been the offensive line penalties, and with WKU having drawn 59 flags on opponents this year for second in the conference, offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann knows not to fall for their tricks.

“Rupert (Bryan) had a hard time last week because the guy was jumping, and this week we have a lot of jumpers, their whole defensive front likes to jump a lot, they’re very undisciplined when it comes to how they play football,” said Hauptmann.

“That’s either going to make or break us, it’s either going to make our run game and pass game easier on us if we’re disciplined on our side of the ball or it’s going to make it a hell of a hard night for us.”

This game could be the Panthers’ last chance of winning the conference championship outright this season. Last year, FIU tied with Troy for a share of the championship. With a loss to WesternKentucky or a Louisiana win against ULM, FIU will be out of contention for sole possession of the Sun Belt once again.

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