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Game Preview: Florida International Golden Panthers

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Y'ALL EVER BEEN TO SWEETWATER?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Florida International Golden Panthers (1-0, #99 F/+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (1-0, #81 F/+)

When? 8:00 PM, Bloomington, Indiana

Channel? Big Ten Network

Vegas? INDIANA -7.5, 55.5 o/u

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OH MAN WHO'S READY TO DO THIS AGAIN?

Last week's game has everything you look for in Hoosier football: a whole bunch of points for both teams involved, that creeping feeling of dread that is not unlike being pulled underwater by a sinking ship you agreed to tie yourself to years ago and now can't for the life of you remember why, a high-octane passing game, and a defense waiting until the last possible second to come up with a stop and / or catch a much needed break.

As usual, there's plenty to be negative about regarding Indiana football as we head into week two, they struggled with an FCS opponent for cryin' out loud! Do they think it'll get any easier from here?!

Oh.

OH.

OHHHHHHHH.

Full disclosure: I lived about ten minutes from Florida International's campus for three years while I attended the University of Miami but never bothered to watch their football team because they won 12 games during those three seasons, eight of those coming during T.Y. Hilton's breakout party that lasted all of the 2011 season. The campuses of UM and FIU are between fifteen minutes and six hours apart depending on what time of day you make the attempt but haven't played each other in football since 2007, likely because the second-to-last time* these two teams met it got -somewhat- lit.

(I am bound by state and federal law to mention this fight anytime Florida International is brought up.)

*This story originally implied that this awesome fight happened the last time the University of Miami and FIU played, we have corrected the error and regret nothing.

LET'S DIG IN.

THE OPPONENT

The Golden Panthers of Florida International are coming off a big win over the University of Central Florida, a game that saw a 16-play drive for a field goal, 13 punts, and UCF being held to 46 yards rushing on 30 attempts. There's nothing about FIU, offensively, that would frighten any defense after week 1 (they averaged 6.8 yards through the air and 4.2 on the ground against UCF), but Indiana's defense just surrendered nearly 700 yards against an FCS team so, you know, don't get comfortable.

Like the Salukis, FIU is trotting out a second-year signal caller, this time sophomore Alex McGough. McGough is coming off a freshman campaign where he tossed 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, completing 50.4% of his passes on the way to 1680 yards. Put it to you this way: last season the Golden Panthers ranked 125th out of 128 teams in offensive efficiency and returns largely the same cast of characters for year two. While you can certainly expect year-to-year growth, this outfit has an awfully large mountain to climb, and that's just to respectability.

Granted, I said many similar things about SIU and they moved the ball at will for most of the game against a Hoosiers defense that was missing its spine (more on that later) and FIU has a couple individual pieces that are more than willing to punish an Indiana team that was often either out of position or incapable of making a play when they were in position. Namely: junior tight end Jonnu Smith (named first team all-conference last season) and running back Alex Gardner (named to the all-freshman team) would be more than willing to take Indiana's defense up on their offer to score, if they make it as frequently as they did against the Salukis.

Defensively, FIU looked fairly stout against a UCF team with a lot of unknowns in their own right. They held the running game to next to nothing and pitched a shutout in the second half. The defense did surrender identical nine catch, 104 yard outings to two UCF receivers and could not manage to force a turnover, but did block a 47 yard field goal in the final minute to secure the one point victory.

THE HOOSIERS

Indiana put the scare in their fans last week with a narrow victory, but it's hard to say they didn't do what was expected. The offense, after a slow start, moved the ball efficiently on both the ground and through the air while the defense, well, uh, looked a lot like the unit that took the field against Bowling Green last season, never stringing enough stops together for Indiana to get a big lead, and unable to keep them out of the endzone as the game wound down. SIU dropped the ensuing 2-point conversion that would have won the game, but count me among those that believe he would not have scored had he caught it, as Indiana closed out wonderfully and reversed him at the point of contact for basically the first time all game.

I'll say this: Indiana's defense is probably bad. Hell, there's a non-zero chance they're worse than last year. But we are probably best off to reserve judgment until the spine of the defense is reinserted into the starting lineup. Defensive lineman Darius Latham and linebacker Tegray Scales are arguably two of the best defenders Indiana has, and certainly at the top of each of their position groups, and neither played against SIU due to a last-second suspension (Scales will miss this week's game as well). While Chase Dutra, who represents the only returning secondary player with any wealth of experience, missed the game due to injury. I understand the notion that Indiana's backup defenders should still hold up against FCS-level competition, and mostly agree with it, but surely we can anticipate some improvement when the injured and suspended return.

It was also refreshing to see the offense firing on all cylinders again, something we hadn't seen since early last season before Nate Sudfeld went down. Suds looked like his old self, slinging mostly beautiful throws at every level, while every now and again making a very easy throw harder than it had to be. He also showed a willingness to pick up chunk yardage on the ground, and while he isn't a candidate to break off a long run or really make anyone miss, he can efficiently pick up up 7-8 yards if he breaks the pocket. Assuming his receivers can continue to get open like they did against the Salukis, he could be in for a massive year.

Fortunately, Indiana can leave the heavy lifting in the running game to the experts: as Jordan Howard looks more up to the task of filling Tevin Coleman's shoes than most anticipated. Whether he can continue his success when the conference schedule opens remains to be seen, but it's hard to not be excited about what you saw on Saturday, as Howard often finished runs while dragging a handful of SIU defenders with him. Devine Redding looks like the definitive change-of-pace running back and an excellent complement to Howard's power.

THE GAME

SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS IN BLOOMINGTON. Seriously nothing better than a night football game in late summer with just a hint of the coming autumn floating through th-

WHAT THE HELL.

This may work to the Hoosiers advantage over their South Florida opponents. If it ever gets below 60 degrees in Miami the entire city shuts down and people head for underground bunkers* so a chilly winter preview may not be the worst thing to happen to Indiana for this game. Because the worst thing to happen to Indiana for this game would, obviously, be losing to Ron Turner.

I predicted Indiana to win this game 52-10 in our season preview and while I don't doubt our ability to hit 52, our defense has given me no reason to think they can hold anyone under 30, much less 10. I still like Indiana to win this game comfortably, and it'd be great to see the defense make a bad offense look bad, because it's not getting any easier from here.