Panthers’ football one win shy of reaching conference championship

The FIU Panthers run out to the field against the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Riccardo Silva Stadium, where the Panthers defeated them 55-9. (Saige Raymond/PantherNow)

By Brett Shweky/Sports Director



With a potential Conference USA title berth on the line for the FIU Panthers on Saturday, Nov. 24 against Marshall, the team must continue to ride their dynamic aerial assault behind quarterback James Morgan to accomplish their postseason aspirations.

The Panthers (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) enter the high-noon East Division showdown with the top-ranked scoring offense in the conference. However, will be challenged by the Thundering Herd’s number one ranked scoring defense.

Both teams are coming into the game riding a two-game winning streak, but have been taking advantage of the lower tier teams in the conference.

Marshall (7-3, 5-2) defeated Charlotte 30-13 and UTSA 23-0 in that span, while FIU beat UTSA 45-7 and Charlotte 42-35.

What’s on the Line

With a win, the Panthers will reach the Conference USA championship game for the first time in the program’s history and will have a date with the West division-leading UAB Blazers in the title game.

FIU also has a chance to secure the most wins in a single season in program history with a potential 9-3 record.

The team has accomplished eight wins three times, coming in 2011, 2017 and this season.

UAB (9-2, 7-0) controls the fate of the title match with them only needing a win against Middle Tennessee (7-4, 6-1) to host the game at their stadium.

Series History

Saturday’s matchup at Riccardo Silva Stadium will mark the sixth meeting between the two programs. FIU has won the last two games against Marshall.

In their previous meeting last season, FIU played the role of the road warriors as they blew past the Thundering Herd 41-30.

FIU rushed for 224 yards against C-USA’s 2017 top rushing defense and running backs Napoleon Maxwell and Alex Gardner both found the end zone.

Alex McGough had an efficient outing completing 14 of his 18 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Thomas Owens recorded his fourth straight 100-yard receiving game and caught both touchdown passes from McGough.

The Panthers’ defense forced three turnovers in the matchup including a pick-six from cornerback Brad Muhammad.

Numbers Don’t Lie

When looking at the statistics, FIU currently has the number two-ranked scoring offense in the conference, averaging 35.5 points-per-game.

In contrast to the Panthers, the Thundering Herd stouts the second-ranked scoring defense, holding their opponents to an average of 19.8 points-per-game.

The Thundering Herd ranks as the top rushing defense in C-USA, limiting their opposition to an average of only 91.5 yards-per-game and 2.6 yards-per-carry.

Behind the running backs of Anthony Jones, Napoleon Maxwell, Shawndarrius Phillips and D’Vonte Price, the Panthers average 167.6 rushing yard per game and have found the end zone on the ground 20 times this season.

Where the Panthers have the advantage lies within their stellar passing attack which ranks fourth in the conference.

FIU has thrown for a conference-best 26 touchdowns and averages 251.8 passing yards-per-game.

Morgan has been the catalyst behind FIU’s air raid and can be credited for his efficient play (164.5 efficiency rating) and his mistake free football (five interceptions).

The transfer from Bowling Green is inching towards the single-season passing yard record with him needing only 249 yards to tie McGough’s 2,798 mark set last season.

He already broke the single-season record for passing touchdowns with 26.

Marshall’s Quarterback Conundrum

The Thundering Herd’s most significant weakness this year has been their lackluster passing game.

Quarterback Isaiah Green has struggled at times for Marshall with him still adjusting to the speed of collegiate football.

The redshirt freshman posts a 54.5 completion percentage while throwing 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the seven games he has played in.  

He started the first four games of the season for the team, however, a knee injury led to Marshall putting in Alex Thomson.

Thomson failed to fully secure the first-string role as the junior remained the starter for only four games where he threw for 506 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Prior to their matchup against Charlotte, head coach Doc Holliday announced that Green would resume the starting position.

Green faired well in his return to the playing field with him completing 15 of his 25 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown in route to the team’s 30-13 victory.

In his most recent game against UTSA, he continued his success as he threw for 387 yards and two touchdowns.  

Players to Watch For

With Marshall having one of the best defenses in the conference, the unit possesses some of the best talent in the league.

Cornerback Chris Jackson will present a challenge for the FIU receivers as he leads C-USA with 14 passing breakups and can be a pest for opposing wideouts.

Linebacker Chase Hancock and safety Malik Gant are cornerstones of the team’s outstanding rush defense with them totaling 161 total tackles between the two defenders.

The Thundering Herd also may have one of the best receivers in the entire conference in Tyre Brady.

Brady is the top receiving threat for Marshall and has the height and the leaping ability to make highlight reel catches.

The senior has hauled in 59 receptions for 845 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.

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