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2014 FIU game page


MIAMI (Oct.30) -- In Little Havana, a few miles down Calle Ocho from the Florida International University campus, the Viejos in Dominoes Park will have just begun to idly stir their first-of-the-day cafecitos when the Rice Owls and the FIU Golden Panthers engage in a noon kickoff here Saturday.

In an unusual scheduling twist, the TV moguls have dictated late-morning starts now in four of the Owls' first eight games -- considering the Houston contingent's biological clocks are set for central time. A stout cafecito or three might ought be included in the Rice pre-game ritual, what with these morning starts appearing regularly on the card.

Guess there's being on TV, and then there's being on TV. This one, once again, is of the latter variety, what with the first-of-the-day time slot on a fledgling network that goes by the name of the American Sports Network (ASN); check your local listings for channel, and keep your fingers crossed.

Assuming your provider has it on Channel 899-1 or some such, you'll get to watch the Owls try to go 1-and-0 for the fifth straight week against a 3-5 FIU contingent that went 1-11 last season, but this year sports wins over Wagner, UAB and Florida Atlantic.

The Panthers gave undefeated Marshall a tussle in the first half of their most recent game two weeks ago, week, actually taking a 7-0 lead early; it was the first time all season the Thundering Herd has ever trailed in a game – which would appear to say more about the quality of the opposition rather than the invincibility of the West Virginia bunch.

The Herd went on to win going away in the second half, 45-13, and to make matters worse, FIU’s top offensive sparkplug, running back Alex Gardner, who rushed for 104 yards against MU, was banged up and is expected to miss the Rice game. Probably.

FIU is not a team with a feature quarterback, which is good news for the Owls. The Cats have been led by freshman Alex McGough at the QB spot; he threw for 176 yards on 14 completions against the Thundering Herd, including a 46-yarder to his senior receiver Cory White in the first half.

McGough is expected to draw the start again Saturday, though he departed the game late against Marshall afte tossing a couple of interceptions and was replaced by backup E. J. Hilliard.

So far on the season, in eight games McGough has thrown for 1,129 yards and eight Tds, while suffering six interceptions, total.

Add to those totals the Panthers’ rushing yardage of 113.6 per game, with seven rushing touchdowns all season, and it totals up to a tepid 21.5 points per game scoring average. And that’s with teams like Wagner and Bethune-Cookman (to whom FIU lost) on the schedule.

But don’t write them off as a potential formidable opponent just yet. FIU’s strength clearly lies in its defense, which currently ranks 31st in the nation among FBS schools at 343 yards per game allowed.

They're holding their opponents to an average of 23 points per game – and that, having faced high-scoring outfits like Pitt, and Louisville, and Marshall.

The Panthers lead the nation with 25 turnovers gained, and are tied for seventh in the FBS in turnover margin (plus-1.25). The Panthers have 74 points scored off those 25 turnovers, so Rule One would appear to be a stricture tha tthe Owls have been successful in observing thus far this season: ball security – don’t turn the damn thing over. Just don’t – and go from there.

The Panther defense is led, stat-wise, by senior Demarkus Perkins, who enters Saturday's game with 55 tackles, 37 of them, the solo variety. He’s also picked up two pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one of FIU's nine interceptions.

Juniors Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine lead the team with 5.5 sacks each. Both are tied for No. 38 in the nation in sacks-per-game (0.68). Wakefield has tallied a team-best 9.0 tackles for loss, while Perine is a close second with 7.5 tackles for loss.

Redshirt junior Richard Leonard leads the team with five interceptions and ranks number eight nationally in interceptions-per-game (0.60). The Miami native also leads the team in passes defended (6) and ranks No. 20 nationally in passes defended-per-game (1.4).

With FIU’s defense-oriented propensities, a nice, efficient game plan by the Flock might have this one over and tucked away in no more than three hours – which would give the boys a chance to head over to Calle Och’ afterwards just in time for the late Cubano lunch hour, and a fine plate or two of picadillo or ropa vieja.

But if so, don’t expect a runaway – just a garden variety, pedestrian, unexciting win, which would serve Rice’s interests quite well, thank you.

In fact, we’d take a flan with that, for dessert. With cafecito.

--P.T.H.