FACTS & STATS: Site: S.B. Ballard Stadium (19,818) — Norfolk, Virginia.
Television: American Sports Network. Home Record: FIU 2-5, ODU 2-2. Away
Record: FIU 1-1, ODU 1-4. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, ODU 0-0. Conference Record:
FIU 2-3, ODU 1-4. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: In the first-ever meeting between them, the FIU Panthers and Old
Dominion Monarchs get together this Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium for a
Conference USA showdown.
The Panthers are reeling entering the contest. They have lost three straight
duels, including home decisions to Marshall (45-13) and Rice (31-17) in their
last two. It was not as if the start of the season was all that impressive,
however, as they are just 3-6 overall now, including a 2-3 mark against the
rest of the conference. With only three games left to play, FIU has to win out
to have any shot at the postseason.
When the Monarchs began this season, its first at the FBS level, with three
wins in four games, it appeared that they may have been more prepared for the
jump in competition than most people realized. However, the wheels have come
off since, with the team falling in five straight contests, including a 42-28
setback at Vanderbilt last Saturday. ODU is just 1-4 in league action, with
two games to play after this one against Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic.
With one of the worst offenses in C-USA, it’s not difficult to see why FIU has
struggled this season. The Panthers are next-to-last in the league in total
offense (289.8 ypg) and the third-worst team in scoring (21 ppg).
In the loss to Rice, they continued their futile play on offense, finishing
with only 261 yards, while averaging only 3.8 yards per play.
Although quarterback Alex McGough avoided throwing an interception for the
first time in three games, he only completed 8-of-19 pass attempts for 132
yards and a single touchdown against the Owls. He has failed to reach 200
yards in all but two games this season, with a pair of games actually coming
in below 100 yards. In all, he has connected on just 48.1 percent of his
throws for 1,261 yards and nine touchdowns, as well as six interceptions.
Jonnu Smith is easily the most important pass-catcher on the roster, as he
leads the in receptions (47), receiving yards (520) and touchdown grabs
(four). He did record five receptions against Rice, but for only five yards.
Glenn Coleman (20 receptions, 455 yards, three TDs) was much more productive
in the losing effort, turning his two grabs into 101 yards and a touchdown. No
other player on the team has more than 10 catches.
Alex Gardner is the club’s leading rusher, as he has racked up 582 yards on
137 carries, but he has not been able to find the end zone very often, doing
so only once. Anthon Samuel (236 yards, three TDs) has been a bit better in
terms of scoring, but he gets limited work. Gardner did not play against Rice,
however, which presented an opportunity for Napoleon Maxwell, who finished
with 88 yards and a touchdown in the setback.
The poor performance of the offense for FIU has largely negated the tremendous
job the defense has done. The Panthers are second to only Marshall in scoring
defense (23.9 ppg), while ranked third in the conference in total defense
Old Dominion can certainly be proud of its efforts on offense this season, as
it ranks fifth in the conference in total yards (432.8 ypg) and sixth in
scoring (32.6 ppg). However, the Monarchs have hit the 400-yard mark only once
in the last four contests.
Taylor Heinicke has been somewhat mistake-prone, but he has enjoyed a rather
productive season under center, connecting on 62.7 percent of his passes for
2,577 yards and 23 touchdowns, although his 11 interceptions are clearly not
an ideal total. He has been under pressure far too frequently, taking 21 sacks
this season, although he has only been victim once in the last two games.
Antonio Vaughan and Zach Pascal pull in most of Heinicke’s passes. Vaughan (42
receptions, 743 yards, 10 TDs) actually leads C-USA in receiving yards and
touchdown receptions. He picked up 90 yards and a touchdown on five grabs
against Vanderbilt, while Pascal (45 receptions, 609 yards, five TDs) had a
more pedestrian game with five receptions for 46 yards.
Ray Lawry (563 yards, 12 TDs) and Gerard Johnson (469 yards, TD) take care of
things in the running game. The duo was stymied by the Commodores, finishing
with just 20 yards and a score on nine combined carries.
While the offense has held its own, ODU’s defense has not been able to keep
pace. The Monarchs are the second-worst team in the league in both total
defense (488.1 ypg) and scoring defense (40.7 ppg).
It is far from a sure thing, but Old Dominion has a great shot to win this
contest. Although the Monarchs clearly have issues on defense, they are facing
one of the weaker offensive teams in the conference. If Heinicke and company
can get into a rhythm, the Monarchs should be able to outlast the Panthers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Old Dominion 34, FIU 30