UTSA (5-2, 2-2 in Conference USA) vs. FIU (5-2, 3-1)
When, where: Saturday, 6 p.m., Miami
Series history: UTSA leads 1-0
Last meeting: UTEP 16, FIU 13, Oct. 11, 2014, Alamodome
UTSA’s last game: Defeated UTEP 31-14, Oct. 28, El Paso
FIU’s last game: Defeated Marshall 41-30, Oct. 28, Huntington, W.Va.
Notable: UTSA is one victory away from becoming bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.
UTSA coach Frank Wilson called out his players after practice Wednesday, criticizing them for losing focus during the second half of the workout.
“The good thing, we don’t play today,” Wilson said. “I don’t know. I thought we did some good things. I think there’s still a lot to be desired.”
Wilson said that such mental lapses are common “for average teams, teams that are .500, teams that are content.”
The Roadrunners could be in trouble Saturday night if they take the field against FIU with that mindset. The Panthers, 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the East Division of Conference USA, are coming off a 41-30 road victory against Marshall.
FIU is in its first season under Butch Davis, a former University of Miami coach who was an assistant under Jimmy Johnson and later was the Hurricanes’ head coach.
UTSA (5-2, 2-2) won its second consecutive C-USA game last week, beating UTEP 31-14 in El Paso. The Roadrunners started the season 4-0 before losing close conference games to Southern Miss and North Texas.
The more Wilson saw of FIU on film this week, the more impressed he became with players on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“When you look at them from a defensive line perspective, they’re really stout, man,” Wilson said. “Their linebackers are very aggressive, and they pin their ears back and they come after you. Their secondary guys are guys who run extremely well and safeties that appear to have a high IQ because you see them directing traffic and communicating to their team.”
Linebacker Treyvon Williams and lineman Fermin Silva anchor the Panthers’ defense. Williams has 46 tackles, including four for loss and a sack, and leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Wilson described FIU wide receiver Thomas Owens as “if not the best, one of the better wide receivers in the country.” Owens has caught 40 passes for 728 yards and five touchdowns.
Panthers senior quarterback Alex McGough has completed 121 of 196 passes, with six interceptions, for 1,513 yards and seven TDs. Senior Alex Gardner is the team’s leading rusher with 456 yards and two TDs. McGough and Gardner are four-year starters.
“That’s a quality team,” Wilson said.
UTSA senior safety Nate Gaines was impressed with FIU’s offense.
“They’re very talented,” he said. “They have very good interior linemen. Their receivers are very talented as well.”
Gaines called Owens a “phenomenal receiver,” and added that it’s going to take “relentless effort” to beat the Panthers.
The FIU offense is averaging 22.6 points and 390.1 yards and the defense has similar numbers, allowing averages of 26.3 points and 396.9 yards per game.
The Panthers opened the season with a 61-17 loss to Central Florida but bounced back with three consecutive victories against Alcorn State (17-10), Rice (13-7) and Charlotte 30-29. They followed with a loss Middle Tennessee (31-17) and a win over Tulane (23-10) before beating Marshall.
While UTSA is within one victory of becoming bowl eligible for the second consecutive season, Wilson said the Roadrunners haven’t even talked about that.
“We’re so beyond that,” he said. “That’s going to take its place. The goal, the bar, has been set, and so when we say things like our goal is to position ourselves to compete for a conference championship and maximize the highest bowl that we can (becoming eligible for), that’s a real goal.
“And when six (victories) get here, it’s not like, ‘Oh, we made it. It’s six.’ We don’t even talk about that because it’s so much bigger than that. It’s beyond that. We achieved that a year ago. We got to a bowl game. Now we have to desire and want more, and work hard to get more.”
UTSA lost to New Mexico in the New Mexico last year, finishing 6-7 in its first season under Wilson.
The Roadrunners are tied with Louisiana Tech for fourth in the C-USA West Division standings. They still have a shot at winning the West, but they’re going to need help. North Texas (4-1) leads the race, and Southern Miss (3-2) and UAB (3-2) are tied for second.
North Texas and Southern Miss already have beaten UTSA, but the Roadrunners still have games left against UAB and Louisiana Tech.