Season on the brink for FIU after 1-4 start

Saundra Sovick/AP Images

Brandon Wise/ Sports Director

After a dismal performance in their first Sun Belt game of the year, the Panthers must quickly turn around to prepare for the defending champion, the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

FIU comes into this game 1-4 on the year and are 0-3 on the road, while averaging 42 points per game allowed.

This past weekend, the defense allowed 501 yards of total offense to the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, even after starting quarterback Blaine Gautier went down with an injury, which kept him out for the rest of the game in the second quarter.

When the Panthers return to the Cage, which has slightly benefited FIU, they will be hoping to win their second game of the year. However, they have still allowed 33 points per game to opponents. Head Coach Mario Cristobal is not yet ready to have a pity party.

“We’re obviously not where we want to be,” said Cristobal after the 48-20 loss to Louisiana Lafayette. “I’m not going to overstate the obvious. I’m sure not going to have a pity party. I’m not going to point fingers at anyone, that’s not the way it works here and that’s not the way it’ll ever work in a program that we coach. So, bottom line is we have to get back to work, get better, and continue to find ways to give our guys a chance to be successful.”

The defense — which came into the year with all of the preseason accolades — has yet to prove its merit, surrendering 5.8 yards per play in five games this season.

The offense has not helped much either when trying to stay on the field, only converting 31 percent of the time on third down attempts, while opponents have converted 40 percent of the time on third down.

This week, the Panthers are tasked with containing the Sun Belt offensive preseason player of the year Ryan Aplin, who completed 61 percent of his passes for 1165 yards and seven touchdowns in five games this year. He has also rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown.

FIU will have to be concerned with the Red Wolves’ running attack, which is averaging 239 yards per game with eight touchdowns to boot.

In last year’s matchup, Arkansas State ripped off 34 points en route to their win over the Panthers, a part of their undefeated run to the Sun Belt title.

Now, the Red Wolves are coming off of their first loss in Sun Belt play, 26-13 to Western Kentucky, since losing to FIU in the 2010 season, which clinched the Panthers a share of their one and only Sun Belt title.

Heading into the Louisiana Lafayette game, true freshman E.J. Hilliard was handed the reins of the offense due to a foot fracture to redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock. Hilliard went 16-26 for 201 yards and two interceptions, the first thrown by an FIU quarterback all season. Arkansas State Head Coach Gus Malzahn believes that Hilliard could improve this week.

“He looks extremely athletic. There’s nothing like your first start as a quarterback,” Malzahn said in his weekly press conference. “Most people greatly improve after that first experience, especially at the quarterback position.”

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