For the first time since the program has moved up to the Divison-I level (now Football Bowl Subdivision), it will open the season at home. This time, in a real stadium. And, this time, with a realistic chance to pull the upset against a superior team.
The last time FIU opened at home it played lowly St. Peters in 2002 as a Divison I-AA team in 2002. Now, the team will suit up against Rutgers on Sept. 11, who has won four straight bowl games out of the Big East Conference.
Time to break down the matchup.
A CLOSER LOOK AT RUTGERS
Looking at the situation closely, Rutgers is better than FIU where it matters. The Scarlet Knight offensive line, as a group, is close in size to FIU’s (thanks to the Golden Panthers recent additions of behemoths like David Delsoin and Caylin Haputmann), but Rutgers O-Line is longer, deeper and more experienced. Not to mention, better overall. The issue for FIU is, although head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff are finally pulling some talented lineman in, they are still young, and at a position like that experience and physical maturity is critical. Rutgers will throw out five starters with at least three years of experience( four with four years), and only one of them is under 6-foot-5. They lost three starters, but talent and letters are an indication that they will not flounder as a unit.
When FIU visited the Scarlet Knights last season in a 23-15 loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, Rutgers ran for 160-yards, led by Joe Martinek. They can run the football people. The team averaged over 130 yards per game last season. The Scarlet Knights also feature a promising young quarterback in Tom Savage, who comes into his sophomore season with the phycial tools to succeed and a very impressive toy to play with in Mohamed Sanu, who Cristobal praised during this weeks press conference. The bottom line is, although this team is unproven, they have a wealth of talent and the potential to dominate the line of scrimmage offensively against FIU.
As far as Rutgers on defense, they present a similar issue for FIU, and one that they have become used to. Playing a team in the Big East only accentuates it. Rutgers has a very good defensive line that can wreak havoc. Look out for Jonathan Freeny, Alex Silvestro and Scott Vallone as big bodies the rebuilt Panther O-line will have to contend with.
But the biggest question in this game is not Rutgers, it is FIU.
WHO IS FIU
The Golden Panthers have two new coordinators. The team has been very protective of displaying it’s new schemes in front of the media all summer, but now everyone will finally find out what these new minds bring to the team. Scott Satterfield, noted for his impact at Toledo, comes with a decorated resume, but so did Bill Legg, his predecessor, who came with accolades from Purdue in 2008. Satterfield is sure to implement a spread offense, but how will the team’s array of talented wideouts be used? Will the team still use the wildcat formation? Is their still going to be a sometimes stubborn desire to run the football without the right personnel for it?
FIU has the best group of receivers in the Sun Belt Conference, and a group that might be better than Rutgers is, but the youthful but promising offensive line will have to let plays develop, and the team should embrace its identity as a finnesse team, at least for now, that realizes that its best chance to have a running game is being efficient in its short passing game.
The defense is now led by Geoff Collins, who brings a sparkling resume to the table. He has talked about using a hybrid scheme and even going with a 3-4 formation at times. But he will have to make adjustments give opponents different looks in order to avoid the predictive play-calling the team displayed in 2009. Unless 330-pound Jordan White is ready as a true freshman, I’m not sure how a 3-4 would work for this team, but its intriguing to think about White clogging the hole and allowing the Golden Panthers to keep four linebackers on the field (its strongest unit on defense.)
We will begin to find out who FIU is on Saturday. That includes finding out who is the team’s starting quarterback, Wesley Carroll or Wayne Younger, which we all expect to be Carroll.
Score: RUTGERS 27, FIU 17
Reason: FIU will have enough adrenaline to hang in, but a team adjusting to a new quarterback and new coordinators may not all come together against a quality opponent like Rutgers. If there is one thing to be hopeful of, it is that Rutgers routinely play’s down to competition, including leading Norfolk State by just six points at halftime last week. FIU has a 25 percent chance to win this game.
If you can’t make it to the game, be sure to catch the broadcast on the radio in Miami at 88.1 (Homestead), 95.3 (South Miami), and 96.9 (North Miami). The signals are weak at times, but the game is also STREAMING LIVE ON FIUSM.com. I will be on the call with Paul McCall bringing every play into you’re living room, your car, or wherever you’re listening.
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Written by Jay Ramos