Panthers Return Home for Critical C-USA Matchup with UTEP

Jacob Spiwak

Asst. Sports Director

Following an ugly, flat out unacceptable loss at the hands of the University of Massachusetts Minutemen last week, FIU faces a crucial must win game this Saturday, Oct. 10.

The Panthers (2-3) will be returning home for their Conference USA home opener against the University of Texas at El Paso Miners (2-3). Both of these teams are underperforming and coming off extremely disappointing losses, looking to save their seasons with a key conference victory.

FIU opened as a major favorite in this game, with the spread ranging anywhere from 13 to 15 points. Besides the UMass game, the Panthers haven’t played poorly this season. That line is based more on UTEP’s extremely lackluster play than it is on how well FIU had played earlier in the season.

UTEP’s season took a major hit when they lost star running back Aaron Jones for the year after just two games last month. They have a 2-1 record since Jones went down, but they haven’t been able to find somebody even close to as consistent as him out of the backfield. UTEP quarterback Ryan Metz has been their leading rusher in each of the last two games, despite having just 63 yards COMBINED during that two-game span.

Metz has taken over as the starting quarterback for the Miners as a redshirt freshman, playing extremely well at times but also struggling mightily last week against the University of Texas at San Antonio. I expect the accomplished FIU senior cornerbacks Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon to feed on Metz’s inexperience and lead a defense that very well may force a handful of turnovers.

It remains to be seen if and when the FIU offense will finally play up to their ability, and this game certainly has potential for that to happen. UTEP doesn’t have a very strong pass defense, so hopefully we see sophomore quarterback Alex McGough given the opportunity to air the ball out down the field. McGough has done a great job completing his passes and leading the offense this season, but I think he’s been forced to throw way too many short passes. As long as the offensive line gives McGough enough time in the pocket, I don’t see any reason why the Panthers can’t look to move the ball with the passing attack.

FIU will need to move the ball much better than they did last week if they want a chance to win, and that should be much easier to do against UTEP. This is a game FIU should definitely win, as they’re a much better overall team than the Miners on paper. Returning home should give them an additional push, especially if a decent number of fans and students make it out to Ocean Bank Field despite the 12:00 p.m. start.

In addition to their many advantages talent-wise, FIU should be motivated by the fact that they’re essentially playing for their postseason lives right now. FIU fully expected to be a legitimate contender this season, and a loss to UTEP would all but eliminate any chance of this team playing in a Bowl Game. Conference games are always the most important ones, and that importance is multiplied when so much is on the line.

Prediction: FIU defeats UTEP 28-13. Neither team has been all that great on offense this season, especially after UTEP lost their star running back in Jones. As disappointed as I was in FIU’s play a week ago, I see them rebounding in a key conference game. The defense will bounce back in a major way, and the offense will do enough to maintain control and take down the Miners.

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