The 2018 Shula Bowl finds both teams in drastically different positions that one year ago. At 3-5 overall and 1-3 in Conference USA, FAU bares little resemblance to last year’s squad that blew out FIU 52-24 en route to a perfect run through C-USA.
This season FIU is the squad in search of perfection. The Panthers have yet to lose in C-USA play this season, and the hot coach in the conference is not Lane Kiffin but rather Butch Davis.
What can FAU fans expect on Saturday? Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi offer our Bold Predictions for that week’s game. Here’s what we expect from FAU vs. FIU this week.
FAU OFFENSE vs. FIU
King: FAU QB Chris Robison is sacked at least four times. FIU isn’t really known for its pass rush – with 15 on the season the Panthers average a little shy of two per game – and FAU’s offensive line has been outstanding at protecting the passer. But Robison is still smarting from the ankle injury he sustained at Marshall two games ago, one that kept him out of the starting lineup in last week’s loss at La. Tech. That injury limits Robison’s mobility in and out of the pocket on Saturday, giving the Panthers the time they need to drop him for losses.
AlBaroudi: John Mitchell finds the end zone. The receiver spot opposite Jovon Durante has been a revolving door all year, but Mitchell is the biggest talent – literally and figuratively – to man the position thus far. Injuries kept him out early but Mitchell has seen his playing time increase substantially of late, catching his first two passes of the season last week against against Louisiana Tech. The 6-foot-4 receiver will come down with a jump-ball score over the top of an FIU defensive back.
FAU DEFENSE vs FIU
King: FAU continues struggling to force punts. La. Tech only scored 21 points last week, but the Bulldogs still managed to convert nine of their 18 third down attempts into first downs. Those conversions kept FAU’s offense from getting back on the field and allowed La. Tech’s defense to rest. FIU does a good job of putting itself in manageable third down situations and then converting them to keep drives alive. If the FAU defense is going to deliver a victory, it will have to force turnovers. Of course, FIU doesn’t turn the ball over much, either.
AlBaroudi: FIU running back D’Vonte Price has his breakout game at FAU’s expense. Despite being the Panthers’ most explosive rusher, Price has yet to lead his team in carries in a single game this year. Signs say that will soon change, however, as the back received a season-high 14 totes last week against Western Kentucky. The Owls have been gashed by the run this year, allowing 21 touchdowns – second worst in Conference USA – and over 190 yards per game. Price will finally get the workhorse role he deserves and the Owls will be hard-pressed to stop him.
FAU WILDCARD vs. FIU
King: If FAU doesn’t defeat FIU, the Owls don’t go bowling. Technically, Saturday’s Shula Bowl isn’t an elimination game, but FAU will have to win its final three games of the season to become bowl eligible should the Owls lose on Saturday. Home games against Western Kentucky and Charlotte aren’t all that worrisome, though the 49ers are playing better than expected. It’s the Nov. 15 trip to North Texas that’s concerning. The game is in Denton, Tex., and the Owls will have lost all their road games this season leading up to that game. It’s also played on a Thursday, which means short rest and travel for the Owls. Expecting them to rebound from losing three consecutive C-USA losses to win their final three games, most notably that game in Denton, seems like too much to ask.
AlBaroudi: The Owls will solve their third down woes offensively. Going 1-for-11 on third down last Friday was a new low for the 2018 FAU offense. It is converting only 33.3 percent of its third down conversion attempts this season, which is the third worst rate in C-USA. But lucky for the Owls, FIU is a perfect defense to get that turned around against. The Panthers are allowing 42.3 percent of opponent third down attempts to be converted – 12th in C-USA.