Sound FIU squad poses problems for Herd in C-USA East showdown
HUNTINGTON — If Marshall University is to earn a share of the Conference USA East Division football title, the Thundering Herd has to beat FIU at noon Saturday in Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami.
The first-place Panthers (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) aren’t going to beat themselves.
As has been the staple of many teams coached by Butch Davis, FIU doesn’t make mistakes. The Panthers are among the most efficient teams in all three facets of the game.
“He has been very successful wherever he has been,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. ”(He is) a great guy who works extremely hard at what he does.”
Davis is a technician when it comes to football fundamentals, and that coaching emphasis has shown itself as FIU has jumped to the elite in C-USA’s East Division. FIU is the cream of the crop in the league in many aspects on offense, defense and special teams.
Offensively, it starts at the quarterback position, where James Morgan - a transfer from Bowling Green - took the reins and put together an impressive season. Morgan has thrown for 2,550 yards with 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes. The throws are not just in the short-to-intermediate realm, either. Morgan takes shots downfield, but makes sure to protect the football while the Panthers average 6.5 yards per play.
“If you look at his numbers compared to everyone else in the league, he may be at the top,” Holliday said. “He takes care of the football. He is very efficient with what he does. They are doing a great job of managing that offense and taking care of the ball.”
FIU leads C-USA in turnover margin, sitting at a plus-9 for the season - nearly one full takeaway on the right side per game.
The Panthers have turned the ball over just 10 times, and defensively the Panthers have 19 takeaways, including 15 interceptions.
Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green had some early-season struggles with interceptions, but has been solid since coming back from injury three weeks ago.
“One thing that popped out to me (on film) is that they take the ball away a lot,” Green said. “This week, we just want to focus and put more emphasis on taking care of the ball, so we don’t give them the momentum and big plays and chances to create opportunities.”
Last season, FIU’s takeaways became crucial in a 41-30 win over the Herd. FIU started the game strong with a takeaway on the second play from scrimmage and didn’t look back, earning three takeaways while not turning the ball over themselves. Those three turnovers led to 17 points for the Panthers.
No matter what realm it is - offense, defense or special teams - the Panthers have been solid, which means Marshall has to play nearly flawless on the road.
If the Herd is to get a victory on Saturday, it will have to be earned.
Under Davis, FIU simply isn’t going to give away the game or a potential berth in the C-USA championship game.
Marshall (7-3, 5-2) at FIU (8-3, 6-1)
Noon Saturday, Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM