FIU Expected to Bounce Back with Decisive Homecoming Win

Jacob Spiwak

Asst. Sports Director

jacob.spiwak@fiusm.com

FIU has been competing in a lot of important games that play a big part in determining their postseason fate. Now, the importance of their remaining games is very simple; win 3 out of the next 5 games and they might make a bowl game, win 4 out of 5 and they’re guaranteed a bowl bid.

With the last two games being against the best teams in Conference USA (Marshall University and Western Kentucky University), they essentially need to win each of their next three games.

That brings us to this weekend, when the Panthers (3-4, 1-2) will host the Monarchs of Old Dominion University (3-3, 1-1) on Saturday, Oct. 19. ODU came back from a late deficit to defeat the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers by a score of 37-34 last week, but overall they haven’t looked all that good this year. The Monarchs’ struggles make them a good opponent for FIU to play in their homecoming game in which the Panthers desperately need a win.

FIU opened as a 14.5 point favorite to defeat the Monarchs, which is similar to the opening line before their 52-12 rout of the University of Texas at El Paso a couple weeks ago. I’m sure every FIU fan would love for a repeat of the Panthers’ performance against the Miners, but that won’t be nearly as easy against ODU.

Despite the fact that they’ve struggled and the betting line is almost exactly the same, ODU isn’t even close to as bad as UTEP. Their new dual threat quarterback David Washington, who converted to a wide receiver last season and is now playing QB again, looked incredible in his first game under center since 2013 last week (365 passing yards and 4 touchdowns). Agile quarterbacks have given the FIU defense fits in the past, so they’ll have to be on their toes to combat Washington’s ability to run.

The one aspect of Washington’s game that can really benefit FIU is his relative inexperience. Despite being a redshirt junior, ODU’s last game against Charlotte was Washington’s first collegiate appearance at quarterback in two years, and even then he had only attempted 31 passes in his career.

He started all 12 of the Monarchs’ games in 2014 as a receiver, but there is a huge difference between lining up as a receiver and leading the offense as quarterback. FIU’s experienced defenders will have to make Washington uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to make mistakes.

As ODU’s quarterback tries to get more settled in, FIU’s quarterback continues to look more poised as the season goes on. Sophomore Alex McGough has put together a tremendous season with 14 touchdowns (matching his total from a season ago) and just 3 interceptions.

McGough has dealt with inconsistent offensive line play and recently a lot of dropped passes from his receivers, but he’s powered through that and led this FIU offense to a moderate deal of success.

McGough and sophomore running back Alex Gardner have undoubtedly become the two main playmakers on this offense, with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Ya’Keem Griner (whose status is uncertain after injuring his foot last week) and wide receiver Thomas Owens also making their fair share of big plays. If FIU can get their best players going and move the ball down the field with the same effectiveness they’ve had as of late, they could make short work of ODU.

That’s much easier said than done, however. ODU is just as hungry as FIU, coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory and fighting for a potential bowl game with the same intensity as the Panthers. With each team sitting at 3 wins, neither can afford a loss, which means we’ll see some hard fought football when these teams take the field on Saturday night.

Prediction: FIU defeats ODU 35-17. The atmosphere at FIU Stadium will be electric for homecoming, and I think a hungry Panthers team will thrive off that energy. They should quite frankly be better than ODU on both sides of the ball, which is why I’m picking FIU to keep their bowl hopes alive and trounce the Monarchs.

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