FIU (4-7) at North Texas (3-7) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Apogee Stadium (30,850) -- Denton, Texas. Television: American Sports Network. Home Record: FIU 3-5, UNT 3-2. Away Record: FIU 1-2, UNT 0-5. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, UNT 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 3-4, UNT 1-5. Series Record: FIU leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: After having their faint bowl hopes dashed last weekend, the North Texas Mean Green will try to bounce back in a Conference USA clash with the visiting FIU Panthers.
FIU was knocked out of the running for the postseason prior to last weekend, as a 38-35 loss to Old Dominion on Nov. 8 continued a four-game losing streak and dropped it to 3-7 overall. However, the Panthers improved their record last Saturday, earning a 38-28 victory in their home finale against Middle Tennessee. This contest will be their final one of the campaign.
It was unlikely that North Texas was going to make a bowl game even if it did win against Texas-El Paso last Saturday. The Mean Green would have had to win three straight contests, including the one with the Miners, to even be in the discussion. They have not won consecutive games all season, while owning a record of just 3-7 overall with two games to play.
When these teams last met during the 2010 season they did so as members of the Sun Belt Conference. North Texas ran away with a 34-10 victory in that matchup, but FIU leads the all-time series, 5-2.
Failure to produce at a high level on offense has been the death knell for FIU this season. The Panthers are next-to-last in C-USA in total offense, averaging a measly 306.5 yards per game. Even in their win over Middle Tennessee, they were still outgained by a 428-375 margin.
Alex McHough easily played his best game of the season against the Blue Raiders, completing 17-of-24 pass attempts for 231 yards and three touchdowns, all season-highs. McHough is normally much-less effective, averaging only 147.6 yards per game on 51 percent passing. He also has twice as many touchdown passes (14) as interceptions (seven).
McHough has a tendency to focus on just one receiver, that being Jonnu Smith. Generally, that hasn't been all that terrible a strategy, as Smith leads the team in receptions (57), yards (695) and touchdown catches (eight). He was the favored target yet again against Middle Tennessee, finishing with season-highs of 140 yards and three touchdowns on eight grabs. Teams can easily hone in on Smith, however, as Glenn Coleman (22 receptions, 456 yards, three TDs) is one of only two other players with more than 100 receiving yards. T.J. Lowder is the other with only 102 all season.
The Panthers have benefited from the work of a pair of solid running backs. Alex Gardner (582 yards, TD) and Anthon Samuel (493 yards, five TDs) each have more than 100 carries this season, while working in tandem out of the backfield. Samuel carried the load by himself against Middle Tennessee, finishing with 120 yards and a touchdown on 19 totes. Gardner did not have a single attempt in the contest.
While the offense has been a disaster for the most part, the Panthers have had at least some success on defense. They rank fifth in the conference in yards allowed (372.6 ypg) primarily due to their strength in the pass rush. Only Rice (33) has more sacks than FIU (30) among C-USA teams. Michael Wakefield (8.0 sacks) and Denzell Perine (6.5) lead the way.
Like FIU, North Texas has been a disappointment on the offensive side of the ball. The Mean Green rank 11th in C-USA in total yardage (320.8 ypg), while scoring 28.2 points per game. They were below even those paltry numbers against UTEP, managing only 201 yards on 57 plays.
Andrew McNulty threw for 101 of those yards, while completing 15-of-27 pass attempts. He also had an interception to match his touchdown pass, which went on a 29-yard strike to Jeffrey Wilson. McNulty still hasn't reached the 1.000- yard mark on the season, with only 903 yards in eight games played. He also has only four touchdown passes compared to five interceptions, while completing a pedestrian 55.4 percent of his pass attempts. McNulty at least showed off some scrambling ability against UTEP, picking up a team-high 67 yards on 12 carries.
Of course, McNulty's running cut into the production of Antoinne Jimmerson, who was bottled up by the Miners. Jimmerson managed only 21 yards on eight total carries in the losing effort. On the season, he has 556 yards and five scores on 113 attempts. Reggie Pegram has also toted the ball more than 100 times, but he is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.
Carlos Harris is far and away the most productive and most utilized receiver on the roster. He has 707 yards and three touchdowns on 57 receptions. No other player has more than 20 catches or 200 yards, although Marcus Smith (10 receptions, 159 yards, four TDs) has shown a knack for getting into the end zone.
North Texas is a middle-of-the-road defensive team in comparison to the rest of the Pac-12. It ranks seventh in both total defense (383.4 ypg) and points allowed (31 ppg). The Mean Green are only a few steps behind FIU in terms of sacks, with 28 as a team.
If the Mean Green hopes to finish the season strong they need to be better offensively than they were against UTEP. That may prove difficult against an aggressive FIU defense. However, the home crowd, however small it may be, should be an aid for the cause and help them pull out a close one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 24, FIU 21Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. (ET)