Fresh off a 24-21 comeback victory against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, the FIU Panthers (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) are sitting on top of the Conference USA East division.
With half the season officially in the books, the Panthers will look to continue their strong start to the season as they host the Rice Owls on Saturday, Oct. 20 to continue their quest for a conference title.
Currently, Rice (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) dwells amongst the bottom teams in the conference and haven’t won a game since their season opener against Prairie View A&M.
Last season, the Panthers defeated the Rice Owls 13-7 to even the all-time series at 1-1.
Here are the three keys to victory for the Panthers as they prepare to take on their third conference foe.
1. Air it out against a weak secondary
During their most recent win, Panthers’ quarterback James Morgan continued his recent success as he finished the game throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns while completing 27 of his 36 passes.
Last game against the Blue Raiders, the transfer from Bowling Green broke the program record for the most passing touchdowns in the first six games of a career. Morgan has 14 passing touchdowns on the season which ranks second among C-USA signal callers.
Wide receiver CJ Worton has been a nightmare for opposing secondaries and will look to continue this trend against the Owls.
Rice’s passing defense is one of the worst units in the league as they allow 267.3 passing yards-per-game along with having let up a league-worst 20 touchdowns.
So far this season, the Florida Gators transfer has caught 20 passes for 459 yards and five touchdowns. His five touchdowns rank him fifth throughout conference receivers.
2. Take advantage of their missing starting quarterback
Owls’ starting quarter Shawn Stankavage has been ruled out against FIU due to what was originally diagnosed as a high ankle sprain.
The starter left the game midway through the second quarter against UAB this past week and resulted in redshirt freshman Evan Marshman to replace him.
Marshman failed to seize the opportunity with him finishing the game having only completed six of sixteen passes for 57 yards and zero touchdowns. Rice went on to lose to UAB 42-0.
Stankavage played in all seven games for the Owls and has thrown for 1,011 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 56.9 percent of his passes.
With his expected absence, Marshman and true freshman Wiley Green took snaps with the first team offense in practice on Monday. Marshman will start for the Owls and will be making their first career start on the road.
FIU’s pass rush has been lacking so far this season, and with the injury to defensive end Fermin Silva matters are becoming more difficult. Silva posted two sacks in the four games he played in.
The Panthers have only recorded ten sacks this season and will to change this aspect if they want to keep up with other conference juggernauts.
3. Shutdown the Owls’ rushing attack
Through seven games, Rice has total 1,105 rushing yards to rank themselves third in the conference in total rushing offense.
The Owls average 157.9 yards-per-game, however, fail to find the end zone consistently with them having only scored on six rushing touchdowns.
Redshirt senior running back Austin Walter is the catalyst for their rushing attack and has totaled 471 yards and four touchdowns on 96 carries.
FIU so far this year has struggled to defend against the run with them ranking in the bottom three of the conference in rushing defense.
The Panthers’ defense let up an average 185.3 yards-per-game this season, but have restricted their opposition to only six touchdowns.
In their most recent game against Middle Tennessee, the Panthers contained the Blue Raiders’ running backs.
However, both Blue Raider quarterbacks, Asher O’Hara and Brent Stockstill, thrived against the FIU run defense with them rushing for 133 yards combined and one touchdown.
Other players to watch for
Wide receiver Aaron Cephus is one of the best playmakers on the Rice offense and has been a handful for opposing teams.
The redshirt sophomore has hauled 23 receptions for 350 yards and four touchdowns in seven games.
Cornerback Justin Bickham is the anchor for the Owls’ secondary and will most likely alternate between shadowing Worton and fellow wide receiver Bryce Singleton.
The six-foot-one redshirt junior has recorded 24 total tackles along with one forced fumble and six passing breakups.