Golden Panthers on the Prowl for First Win

Rocket Digest Reporter Tom Mauter weighs in on the FIU Golden Panthers in his latest version of "My View by Tom Mauter." The Rockets host FIU this Saturday night at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, OH. Kickoff is set for 7:00pm. Read on for Tom's view and analysis of the FIU football program and some thoughts on what might happen Saturday night.

Let's be honest. Going back a few years when Florida International University Golden Panthers (FIU) first appeared on the Rockets future schedule most thought this would be the equivalent of another Liberty University. Perhaps. Recall last year's Homecoming Game fans breathed a sigh of relief following the Rockets one-point win after being down 12 points going into the fourth quarter.

That was then this is now as evidenced by the odd makers listing the Rockets as 19.5 point favorites. FIU, with the newest 1A football program started in 2002, was established in Miami in 1972 and has a current enrollment of 38,000.

Here are a few more FIU facts:

U.S. News & World Report ranks FIU's undergraduate international business programs among the top 15 in the nation and their graduate programs among the top 25.

FIU ranked first in the nation among four-year colleges for awarding bachelor's and master's degrees to Hispanic students in the 2008 survey conducted by the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine.

Graduates of FIU's College of Law led the state of Florida with their pass rate on the latest Florida Bar Exam every year since FIU grads began participating in 2005.

As might be expected with a new football program, FIU has been at the bottom of 1A rankings going 0-12 in 2006 and 1-11 last year. But here are a couple stats from last year that caught my eye:

FIU ranked #28 defensively in yards allowed (300.9 per game)

#1 in tackles for losses (6.25 per game)

What also stood out for me is the fact that the FIU defense was on the field for 129 more plays than the offense. That's nearly 22% of the FIU offensive plays for all of 2007.

Let's look at this year's Golden Panthers (0-3).

On Defense

The defense was worked over by Kansas (40-10) and Iowa (42-0) and they had no help from the FIU offense. The Golden Panthers home opener in their new stadium last Saturday was a different matter. The number 12 ranked Bulls of USF were greeted by a suffocating defense. Coming into the match, the Bulls were averaging close to 500 yards and 42 points per game. FIU made two goal-line stands and held USF to 320 yards for the day in a 17-9 game.

There is no question the defense is yards ahead of the offense (ranked near the bottom of NCAA team stats) in terms of experience and performance. The secondary is led by seniors CB Robert Mitchell and SS Jeremiah Weatherspoon and sophomores CB Anthony Gaitor and FS Kreg Brown. They are, in order, second, third, fourth and sixth in team tackles and have accounted for 5.5 of the teams' 20 tackles for losses. The line backing corps is an active bunch led by the Golden Panthers leading tackler LB Scott Bryant (13 solos and 16 assisted tackles). DE Quentin Newman leads the defense in TFL with 3.5.

On Offense

This unit is about an anemic a group as there is in 1A football. Senior RB A'mod Ned is the leading rusher averaging a football's length over 25 yards per game – 2.7 yards per carry. His backup, Julian Reams, is averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Reams has the lone FIU rushing touchdown.

Starting QB Paul McCall has completed 45.6% of his passes for an average of 58 yards passing per game along with 5 INTs. His backup Wayne Younger, who has taken about a third of the snaps, has completed 48.3% of his tosses. Neither has thrown a TD pass this year.

Freshman WR Junior Mertile is the leading receiver with 8 catches while another freshman WR T.Y. Hilton leads the team with 33.3 yards per catch.

Special Teams

The offensive spark for the Golden Panthers is the punt and kick off returns of T.Y. Hilton who had a 74-yard punt return against Kansas. This unit has also blocked two field goal attempts. Punter Carlos Munera, with ample practice, is averaging a very respectable 41.8 yards per punt. K Dustin Rivest is one for two on field goal attempts both beyond 40 yards.

What to look for:

QB Wayne Younger to run the ball about as often as he passes.

Look for the Golden Panthers to try to end Alex Steigerwald's string of successful field goal attempts.

The Rockets defense to have two or more interceptions.

T.Y. Hilton to have a big return against the Rockets.

The play of FIU Center Brad Serini - he is one of six sophomores on the watch list for the 42-man Rimington Trophy, which is annually presented to the nation's top collegiate center.

FIU defenders in the Rockets backfield in the first half causing problems.

A big passing night for Aaron Opelt.

Barrage of blitzes from FIU safeties, corner backs and linebackers.

The Rockets to counter with screen passes and quick outs.

Kenny Veal to return a kickoff into FIU territory provided the Golden Panthers have more than one kickoff.

A new location and an insurance rider for the Pi Kappa Phi cannon

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