For the first time in both school's histories, FIU and UTEP will meet on the football field this Saturday. FIU is making its longest road trip in a season since a 2004 trip to NMSU, making their Sun Bowl debut Saturday at 6 PM MDT.
It has been a tough season to say the least for FIU, they have started 27 players who are first time starters in their college careers, and like the Miners are 1-8 overall.
Head Coach Ron Turner comes from an NFL background like Sean Kugler, they both have gone head-to-head as assistants in the NFL four times.
Former Miner defensive coordinator Andre Patterson now coaches FIU's defensive lineman.
FIU ranks 114th in the FBS is passing, 118th in rushing and dead last 125th in points scored a game. They have scored only 90 total points this season and have only hit the 20 point plateau twice.
They have been real run heavy against good passing teams, that is the only tendency or consistency per se on the Golden Panther offense that you can really put your finger on as their offense has been non-existent.
Lamarq Caldwell and Silas Spearman III are your running backs for FIU. Caldwell is the starter though Spearman has more carries on the season. Caldwell leads with 355 yards while Spearman III is not far behing with 328 yards on the ground, though combined they only account for five rushing touchdowns.
Jonnu Smith is the Golden Panthers leading receiver at tight end with 277 yards and averages 9.2 yards a catch, he is the only FIU receiver to catch a ball in all nine games this season.
T.J. Lowder is second on the team in yards and starts at wide receiver. Another guy that could be involved as a passing target is Clinton Taylor, he averages 14.6 yards a catch though only has 15 catches and has the second longest reception of the season for the Golden Panthers behind Lowder.
One constant this season in a season with very little consistency for the Golden Panthers has been the offensive line. All five who started the season opener at Maryland have played majority of the season and will start Saturday.
Across the board on the o-line they go no shorter than 6'3 and all are over 300 bills. Although they sit 13th in C-USA in terms of rushing yards per game. Though in my opinion that is a positive to have those young guys play a lot of snaps together and it also gives you something to build around for next season.
Like the parts of the offense, the defense has seen a lot of depth turnover as 13 different Golden Panthers on defense have made their first D-1 start this season.
The Golden Panthers are very young all over, at cornerback is where the youth is evident.
True freshman Wilkenson Myrtil got his first start at corner last week against Middle Tennessee State, making it back-to-back weeks a freshman started at corner for them.
Senior middle linebacker Markeith Russell is the leader on the defense; he is the leading tackler and is very talented in the middle.
Justin Haley also makes a lot of tackles out of the safety spot, and has also added two interceptions this season as well.
Another talented defensive back is senior corner Sam Miller, Miller also has two picks, three tackles for loss, and is third on the team in solo tackles.
Overall the Golden Panthers rank 80th in the FBS in total defense, and give up 187.7 rushing yards a game. There are only six seniors listed on FIU's two deep depth chart on defense.
For the Miners true freshman Mack Leftwich will make his second career start, he completed 14 out of 20 passes last week and was allowed by the football gods to throw his first touchdown, but was sacked 8 times by a tough North Texas defense.
The decision making clock in his head just looked slow under pressure and that of a true freshman in his first game against a real defense.
Although I believe he will be a nice player once it is all said in done in his Miner career, and you have to give him credit as he got got up every time from getting smacked and continued to play hard showing plenty of heart.
The Miners offensive line is going through injury and depth issues. Guard Jerel Watkins is still out with an injury and the Miners struggled blocking in between in the tackles last week, though they face a FIU defense that has only sacked the quarterback 12 times this season
The struggles on offense may continue as Bret Bloomquist from the El Paso Times reported that freshman running back Aaron Jones is out for the season with broken ribs.
Josh Bell should get some carries too as, Bloomquist also reports that Dowell is slowed by an injury and is questionable, as is tight end and senior Kevin Perry .
Depth is still the concern on defense for the Miners, though Scott Stoker should like the match up statistically.
Against the better teams in the conference FIU likes to pound the ball and slow the game down, it seems as if they don't really like to pass nor trust their quarterbacks, just have not seen enough of them to make a fair judgement.
If UTEP can stop the run, something that has not happened at all this season, the defense should dominate and be able to bring exotic and numerous blitzes that the 4-2-5 can bring.
On paper this is a game the Miners should win, should being the key word. With all due respect to FIU, their cupboard is just empty and Ron Turner has his hands full trying to get this program on the right track.
I am looking for the defense to take over and dominate certain possesions as the zone blitz is something UTEP used against North Texas and was effective at times.
While I expect the offense to be balanced and look to stretch the field as Leftwich clearly showed his IQ as he got Jordan Leslie involved, and when he had time to make decisions he was solid.
Though against a team like FIU you should be able to run the ball for 4 or 5 yards every time you run. We know the Miners will try to run the ball, would love to see Nathan Jeffery go off against a suspect defense.
We will also continue to see the youth movement as Kugler is moving forward from Price's players who are not buying in and also not fitting in the new scheme he is trying to build, going with freshman and younger guys who are buying in and working hard to improve the scheme is what seems he is doing at this point in the season.
That is evident with the quarterback switch and the indefinite suspension of UTEP's best defensive player Richard Spencer.
With the return of Patterson, I would also expect the FIU defense and possibly the entire team to be fired up early and play hard for former candidate to take over the UTEP program.
Hard to say what Miner team shows up and if everyone is still on board for this season. I think overall the game will be close, grind it out type of game with both teams trying to establish drives and yards via the running game.
UTEP cannot afford anymore special teams mistakes and give the Golden Panthers confidence and momentum, and possibly the lead on the scoreboard.
The UTEP defense comes up with some stops late in the game for the second win of the season.
Good luck and thank you to all the seniors.
UTEP 20 FIU 17