Tuesday Night Football: Troy and FIU Both Desperate For Wins


Sun Belt games are typically not marquee in the greater pantheon of college football, but when the league’s schedule was released this summer, Oct. 25 was an especially interest-piquing date. The conference opted to use one of its primetime, ESPN slots to showcase Florida International and Troy, winners of their respective 2010 bowl games and preseason Sun Belt favorites. Tonight’s clash is certainly important to both, but not as the de facto conference championship game some like myself anticipated it would be.

No, the Trojans and Golden Panthers may in fact be playing for their postseason lives tonight at 8 ET.

FIU started 3-0 with victories over Louisville and UCF, but have since limped to 1-3 including two defeats in the conference. Troy opened with its typically taxing non-conference slate, giving Clemson a game for a half and hanging with Arkansas throughout. Wins over MTSU and UAB seemingly got Troy on its expected track, but the Trojans have since dropped consecutive outings to league opponents La.-Lafayette and ULM — the latter by a shocking four touchdowns.

Larry Blakeney’s team has had over a week to lick the wounds Louisiana-Monroe inflicted upon it, but is the extra rest enough to overcome an FIU team as desperate for a win as Troy? The Golden Panthers pose match-up problems that have plagued Troy throughout its first half of the season, namely a typically stout defense.

The qualifier “typically” comes into play, as FIU surrendered its most points all season a Tuesday ago in dropping its second Sun Belt game of the year, 34-16 at Arkansas State. FIU held the RedWolves to just six first half points, but were unable to contain Ryan Aplin in the second. Aplin posed FIU a challenge as the first equally effective rushing-passing quarterback it had faced this season. Whereas other opponents like UCF with Jeffrey Godfrey were primarily rush, or Sean Renfree and Duke almost exclusively aerial, Aplin tucked the ball 21 times but also threw 24 passes.

In Troy’s Corey Robinson, FIU faces a more traditional dropback passer. To wit, Robinson’s rushed for all of 11 yards this season, while Aplin entered last week’s ASU second leading ball carrier on the year.

Robinson may not run, but he compensates by throwing for more completions than every FBS quarterback but five. He’s in company with players like Seth Doege, Nick Foles, Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden at over 28 completions a game. All those balls have to spread around, as evidenced by Troy boasting six receivers averaging at least 20 yards per game. The FIU secondary won’t be able to lock in on just one target, though Eric Thomas may warrant some double teams.

Thomas leads Troy with 32 receptions, including five for touchdowns. Cornerback Terrance Taylor should draw the Thomas assignment, but will need a valiant effort from his mates in the secondary to slow the Trojan air raid. FIU ranks just No. 71 in the FBS against the pass, and has only three interceptions as a team all season. The Golden Panthers’ best chance is to force Robinson into mistakes, which he has been susceptible to with seven interceptions.

That starts with pressure, and that’s something in which FIU excels. The Golden Panthers have 19 sacks as a team, good for 19th overall nationally. The linebacking corps of Sam Miller and Winston Fraser provides plenty of shock and awe on blitzes. Troy’s offensive line has done a solid job protecting Robinson, allowing only 10 sacks all season. How Blakeney counters the blitz packages Mario Cristobal’s staff dials up should tell tonight’s tale.

Though FIU boasts the most explosive weapon in T.Y. Hilton, the Golden Panthers are going to try and keep this one low scoring. As the offenses settled in last week, FIU was clearly out of its element. Offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield strayed from the balanced-leaning-rush offense that FIU has employed most of the season, opting instead for 37 pass attempts to 29 rushing. Quarterback Wesley Carroll was averaging 12 fewer pass attempts than that per outing coming into Jonesboro.

Credit has to go to ASU’s rush defense for holding FIU to just 2.3 yards per attempt. Backs Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry must establish the ground game early against a Troy defense surrendering 173 rushing yards per game. Should that duo get going through the first quarter-and-a-half, that should open Hilton for some big play strikes.