FIU wraps up its 15th football season against Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers (4-7, 4-3 Conference USA) look to add to their program-best in Conference USA wins if they can defeat the Monarchs. ODU (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) is playing for much more, specifically a possible spot in the conference championship game. If ODU beats FIU and Marshall upsets Western Kentucky, then ODU would face Louisiana Tech for the C-USA championship the following Saturday.
FIU encounters an ODU team that has made an impressive turnaround from last season when the Monarchs were 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference. The Panthers waxed the Monarchs 41-12 in Miami last season. What makes you take notice of the turnaround is that this is pretty much the same ODU team from last season.
One reason for the ODU improvement has been the development of quarterback David Washington, who made his first career start last season against FIU. Washington is a dual-threat quarterback that has thrown for 2,507 yards and 26 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season. Washington is very mobile and can hurt FIU with his feet. The Panthers faced a similar quarterback earlier this season in Charlotte's Hasaan Klugh and did a good job containing him.
Washington is just one part of a potent ODU offense. The Monarchs also feature running back Ray Lawry, who is sixth in the conference with 928 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Lawry averages 6.1 yards per carry. Receivers Zach Pascal (792 yards, 7 TDs) and Jonathan Duhart (666 yards, 8 TDs) are ODU's top threats through the air. Both have good size with Pascal at 6-2 and Duhart at 6-3.
ODU has the fourth best offense is C-USA averaging 35.5 points per game. This is not the type of team FIU wants to get into a shootout with considering the Panthers are last in the conference with 23.6 points per game.
Therefore FIU needs to establish its run game like it did last week against Marshall when the Panthers rushed for 259 yards and had Anthony Jones (121 yards) and Alex Gardner (119 yards) each go over 100 yards in the same game for the second time this season.
The Monarchs feature the second best scoring defense in C-USA allowing 27.8 points per game and the fourth best run defense with opponents rushing for 161.5 yards per game.
The Panthers might need to hit several passes of mid to long range to soften up the Monarch defense and keep them from stacking the box to stop the FIU run.
The city of neon lights thinks ODU is a Dan Fouts jersey number better than FIU. That might be a bit high but when you consider the stakes and atmosphere for ODU in Norfolk you could see the reason for the number. This game will be like a playoff game for ODU, who has been bowl-eligible for a while now. WKU and Marshall don't play until Saturday night so the Monarchs won't have to scoreboard watch during their game.
FIU has a chance to spoil any hope of a C-USA title for ODU and more importantly the Panthers are looking to do what new FIU coach Butch Davis asked -- go on a two-game winning streak heading into 2017.