Up this week is FIU (0-1), a team that gave No. 4 Alabama trouble before the Crimson Tide wore down the visiting Golden Panthers late in the game last Saturday. FIU held a 14-13 lead in the second quarter and remained within a touchdown until late in the third, when Alabama notched the first of three unanswered touchdowns in a 40-14 decision. The Crimson Tide had trouble covering FIU's quick pass attack in the first half, something Rutgers is going to have to watch this week.
The Scarlet Knights (1-1) are fresh off a 45-7 pasting of Football Championship Subdivision member Howard, a much-needed confidence builder after getting demolished 47-15 by Cincinnati in the season opener. True freshman quarterback Tom Savage is back for his second career start, and a bevy of freshmen are already making their mark on the Banks.
Game time is 5 p.m. Eastern, with SNY scheduled to carry the television broadcast in the New York area and ESPN GamePlan nationally (Channel 788 on DIRECTV; Dish Network Channel 458). It's also ESPN360.com. The game can be heard on the Rutgers Radio Network (WOR 710-AM, WCTC 1450-AM and WPEN 950-AM in New Jersey), on WRSU 88.7 FM and on Sirius Satellite channel 152.
This is the front end of a home-and-home series that has Rutgers travelling to face the Golden Panthers next September at FIU Stadium in Miami.
Let's get a look at this matchup.
Who Has the Edge in the FIU-Rutgers game?
FIU'S OFFENSE VS. RU'S DEFENSE
College football is all about matchups, and you have to think FIU is looking for a chance to show what its offense can do against a Rutgers defense that was shredded in the season opener. The Golden Panthers run an offense that looks similar to Cincinnati's spread, relying on speed and quickness to wear down the opposition. FIU, which runs a multiple offensive look, operates primarily out of a shotgun formation. The Golden Panthers averaged 24.7 points per game in 2008.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Paul McCall is smart with the ball and throws very few risky passes. His career completion rate is not great (52.3 percent), but he has nearly a 2-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. McCall, who threw for 2,322 yards in 2008, completed 16 of 32 passes for 189 yards and one TD versus Alabama in the opener.
What makes FIU a dangerous opponent is its ability to spread the ball around and to break long plays from quick hits. The Golden Panthers had seven different players register receptions against Alabama and had five plays of more than 15 yards. T.Y. Hilton and Greg Ellingson are the most dangerous FIU wideouts who are sure to give RU some problems.
The big downside for FIU is its inability to run the ball. The Golden Panthers managed just 1 yard net rushing at Alabama (39 if you factor out sacks). FIU gained an average of 98.8 yards per game in 2008 (107th out of 119 teams).
RU was torched by Cincinnati's spread in Week 1 to the tune of 564 yards. The Scarlet Knights held Howard to 264 yards in a victory last week, but they are ranked 96th out of 120 schools in total defense, allowing 414 yards per game. RU's pass defense has allows 273.5 yards per game and is ranked 103rd nationally.
Until Rutgers shows that it can handle the spread offense and quick passing routes with some decent coverage, it will be at a disadvantage.
RU'S OFFENSE vs. FIU'S DEFENSE
True freshman RU QB Tom Savage gets his first start against a Football Bowl Subdivision team this week. Last week he was solid, completing eight of 13 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than two quarters. His main targets are speedster Tim Brown (21.8 yards per catch average, one TD), true freshman Mohamed Sanu (12 receptions in two games), and tight end D.C. Jefferson hauled in a 46-yard reception on a seam route last week - the first catch of his college career.
RU's offensive line should be able to get some push in the trenches against an FIU team that lost three starters from last year's defensive line. The Scarlet Knights are bigger (6-6, 304-pound average vs. 6-2, 270) and more experienced than the Golden Panthers on the line, which could translate to yardage for the likes of running backs Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek, De'Antwan Williams and Kordell Young (who may return this week).
Those who follow Rutgers closely should be familiar with a few names on the FIU coaching staff. Of course, there's head coach Mario Cristobal, but you'll read more on him later. Defensive coordinator Phil Galiano was a member of the Rutgers coaching staff from 2003-2006 and helped mold the defensive ends and linebackers into dominant players. FIU defensive line coach Cary Godette led the RU defensive line from 2005-07, forming a unit that was in the top 20 in five categories during the 2007 campaign.
Cornerback Anthony Gaitor is FIU's best defensive player. The junior hauled in five interceptions last year and returned two for TDs. The Golden Panthers have a decent linebacker corps, led by Scott Bryant, who registered nine tackles in the season opener.
Alabama rolled up 275 yards rushing and 516 total yards on FIU last week. If RU can establish the running game early, it will be all downhill in the fourth quarter of this affair.
As a returner, Hilton is a gamebreaker who showed his skill against Alabama, returning a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to cut the Crimson Tide lead to 10-7 in the first quarter. It marked the second straight year that Hilton scored a TD on his first touch of the season. Alabama only kicked to the electric return man one more time, with good reason.
FIU punter Carlos Munera was named second team All-Sun Belt Conference last season after averaging 41.1 yards per punt. Kicker Dustin Rivest was a shaky 12-for-19 on field goals in 2008 and did not attempt one versus Alabama.
RU has an emerging punt return threat in freshman receiver Mohamed Sanu, though he has yet to break a long runback. Place kicker San San Te was 3-for-4 against Howard, but his miss was a bad shank on a 30-yard attempt. Punter Teddy Dellaganna got plenty of work in the first week against Cincinnati and is averaging 45 yards per punt.
This is a matchup of a teacher versus student. FIU head coach Mario Cristobal was a graduate assistant at the University of Miami when RU head coach Greg Schiano was defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes. The former Miami offensive line standout followed Schiano to the Banks for the 2001-03 seasons, where he was a key contributor to RU's success as an offensive line and tight ends coach - and especially as a recruiter. He started getting talent to Rutgers that would lay the groundwork for the success of the past few years.
Here's what Schiano had to say about Cristobal during the Big East Football coaches teleconference on Sept. 14: "Mario's such a bright guy. He had a lot of career opportunities. I'm glad he stuck with (football coaching). He's good for the game, and he's especially good for young people."
This is game No. 100 as a head coach for Schiano, making him the fourth head coach in school history to amass at least 100 games. His career record is 47-52, all at Rutgers. Schiano has taken knocks for RU's last two season openers, but he has posted four consecutive winning seasons entering the 2009 campaign after coming to a school that was among the dregs of Division I-A nearly a decade ago.
Cristobal took over the team that went 0-12 the previous season under Don Strock and took his lumps at 1-11 in 2007, his first season at the helm. FIU improved to 5-7 in 2008, tying the school mark for wins in a season. That being said, he is still learning on the job in his first head coaching stint. At the least, Cristobal brings style to the sidelines, with his old-school black tie-and-shirtsleeves combination.
There probably won't be a packed house this Saturday, so that diminishes some homefield advantage that Rutgers might enjoy. Even if the place were filled, I doubt FIU would be very intimidated. After all, the Golden Panthers weren't exactly shaking in their boots for a Saturday night game at Bryant-Denny Stadium last week, so there's no reason to think they would lose their composure in Piscataway.
According to the Miami Herald, the Golden Panthers felt there were some moral victories in the loss at Alabama and that they built confidence despite the 26-point loss. Rutgers ironed out some kinks versus Howard and took a step in the right direction with an impressive first half. But there are still plenty of question marks surrounding both squads.
SERIES HEAD TO HEAD
This is the first meeting between the schools.
Rutgers is hoping to go to its fifth straight bowl game this year. The Scarlet Knights have put together a 28-13 run beginning in 2006.
FIU, in its eighth year of football and fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision, is still looking for its first winning season. If you count the two seasons FIU was forced to vacate a total of eight victories due to NCAA sanctions, the Golden Panthers have four winless campaigns on paper.