Backfield production/physical blocking schemes
It hasn't led to wins or consistent production from all the moving parts involved, but FIU's rushing game is a major cause for concern this week for the Miners.
Running back Alex Gardner is averaging 4.8 carries per game this season, and has seven career 100-yard rushing games which ranks second in FIU history.
Anthony Jones was the perfect complement FIU has been looking for running for 90-yards against FAU last week behind Gardner. Also quarterback Alex McGough ran for a career high 61-yards on and two touchdowns last week as well.
Schematically, the Golden Panthers with challenge UTEP with multiple tight end looks, something UTEP hasn't seen much of this season. UTEP's linebackers will be important parts in protecting the second level behind the gaps FIU will look to run through.
The read-option ran by McGough will be another challenge in slowing down a potential potent rushing attack from FIU on Saturday.
Tackle machines in the middle
30% of FIU's total tackles come from linebackers Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint.
Wint is an all C-USA level linebacker who has reached double digit tackle numbers in three straight games, and in four of the Golden Panthers five games so far this season.
Williams has 3.0 sacks, and 4.0 TFL's, and both are #1, and #2 in the conference in total tackles so far this season. Their combined tackles is the most by any pair of players from a Conference USA team this season as they are the only teammates that rank in the top five among all league players.
UTEP has struggled picking up linebackers in the run game, while FIU is ranked 40th in the nation in allowing explosive running plays thanks to their pair of tackle machines in the middle.
Future NFL tight end
Tight end Jonnu Smith seems like he's been at FIU forever, and all he's done in his storied career is produce numbers. Smith comes into Saturday's game as the team's leading receiver, and he's also caught a pass in 37 consecutive games.
He has a 53.3 percent catch rate so far this year, averaging 8.3 yards per target, and 11.3 yards per catch this season. He's also a key blocker and a three year member of the Mackey Award Watch List.
This will be a first against UTEP's 3-4 defense, a tight end who can block, catch, and stretch the field.
Coaching situation brings many unknowns
Ron Cooper took over for Ron Turner who was fired back on September 25th after a 53-14 loss to UCF.
Cooper is in his fourth head coaching stint, previously manning the sidelines at Eastern Michigan, Louisville, and Alabama A&M from 1993-2001. He led FIU to a hard fought in over rival FAU last week, seemingly doing a hands on job of motivating and coaching up the battered Golden Panthers.
FIU also hired three new coaches this past offseason, and now the future of their program in terms of leadership is very cloudy, leaving tons of unknowns.
Interim labels are tough deals for players, coaches, and fans, but FIU showed some resolve, and improved play as they committed just a single five yard penalty last week.
You never know what expect from teams who fire their head coach during the middle of the season, which is a scary unknown for a struggling UTEP team trying to find their way as well.