FIU (1-3) at Louisiana (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajun Field (31,000) -- Lafayette, Louisiana. Television: ESPN3.com, Sun Belt Net. Home Record: FIU 1-1, Louisiana 1-0. Away Record: FIU 0-2, Louisiana 1-1. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 0-0, Louisiana 1-0. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 7-2.
GAME NOTES: The FIU Panthers begin their Sun Belt slate on the road this Saturday night, as they take on one of the favorites to claim the conference crown, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.
FIU played well against nationally-ranked Louisville last week, even holding a lead for much of the second quarter, but it ultimately dropped its second straight game in a 28-21 final. The team's only win of the year came in a 41-38 shoot-out versus Akron back on Sept. 8. The Panthers hope that the start of their conference schedule will help turn things around, as they won five of their eight Sun Belt games a year ago.
Louisiana return home for the first time since crushing Lamar on opening night, 40-0, winning its sixth consecutive home game in the process -- the fourth-longest winning streak in Cajun Field history. The Cajuns are coming off 65-24 loss in a brutal matchup on the road against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State, which is sure to be their most difficult game of the year.
In the all-time series between these two programs, Louisiana has a 7-2 advantage, which includes a 36-31 win in Miami last year.
The FIU offense has shown plenty of promise this season (27 ppg, 396.5 ypg), but it struggles with efficiency, converting just 21-of-59 third-down opportunities and 2-of-5 field goals. The squad has also lost six fumbles.
Jake Metlock has played well (69-of-119, 827 yards, four TDs), but he left the Louisville game early with a foot injury and his status for this game is unclear. In his absence, E.J. Hilliard was sharp, completing 9-of-10 passes for 82 yards and touchdown while nearly orchestrating a fourth-quarter comeback.
Kedrick Rhodes leads the team in rushing (225 yards, TD) despite missing the Louisville game. Jeremiah Harden rushed for 102 yards against the Cardinals. Darian Mallary has been used sparingly (40 carries, 176 yards), but he's a huge factor at the goal line, leading the SBC with six rushing touchdowns.
Wayne Times leads the team with 24 catches and 240 yards, but he has yet to find the end zone.
The defense hasn't played well (36.2 ppg) but showed some promise against Louisville quarterback Terry Bridgewater, holding him under 53 percent on his completions while coming up with two interceptions.
Johnathan Cyprien has 41 tackles and one of the unit's five picks this year. The Panthers have made 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage (led by Tourek Williams with 4.5 TFL), but only have three sacks.
Louisiana has been effective on offense with a scoring average of 33.7 ppg, showing solid balance between rushing (157 ypg) and passing (213.3 ypg).
The Cajuns have won two of their three games despite shaky quarterback play. Blaine Gautier (406 yards, three TDs) is still considered the starter, but he has completed less than 48 percent of his passes, and Terrance Broadway (21-of-36, 234 yards, TD) has been eating into his playing time. The good news is that the two signal-caller have combined for zero interceptions and have only been sacked once.
Alonzo Harris leads the team with 195 rushing yards and two TDs, but he averages less than four yards per carry. Effrem Reed has shown more explosiveness despite fewer chances (22 carries, 117 yards, TD).
Javone Lawson (14 catches, 147 yards, TD) has been the team's preferred receiving target when it comes to moving the chains, while Darryl Surgent (six catches, 144 yards, TD) has been employed for throws down the field.
Defensively, the numbers look pretty bad (29.7 ppg, 508 ypg), but much of that is skewed due to the 65-spot that Oklahoma State put up on a couple of weeks ago.
The unit had a knack for creating big plays in 2011, returning seven interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns, and it got back to that this season when Jemarious Motem returned a fumble 56 yards for a score against Troy.
Justin Hamilton has just five tackles on the year, but he has four tackles for a loss and a sack.
Even though FIU has gotten off to a slow start, it proved with a gutsy performance against Louisville that it can still be a contender in the Sun Belt. However, playing Lafayette is a difficult task for any team, and the Cajuns' inspired play early this season should continue.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 30, FIU 24
09/26 10:33:39 ET