UCF Football Opponent Preview - FIU

June 5, 2012

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By Joey Nelson

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Head Coach George O'Leary and the Knights are set to face Florida International on Sept. 15 in what should make for a great home opener at Bright House Networks Stadium. UCF takes the field with revenge on its mind and is looking to send the Panthers back to Miami with a loss.

In last season's matchup, the Panthers pulled off the upset, beating the Knights 17-10. Statistically, UCF led in total yardage, time of possession and first downs, but the Panthers took advantage of turnovers and penalties for the victory.

FIU started off the 2011 season hot with victories against Louisville and UCF, yet followed it up with back-to-back losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Duke. The Panthers would go on to finish the season with an 8-5 record and a loss to Conference USA's Marshall in the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl.

Nationally, the FIU defense ranked No. 14 in points against, No. 22 in rushing yards allowed and No. 31 in total yards. The Panthers' defensive unit only lost one starter to graduation and should continue to give opposing offenses a tough time in moving the football.

Head Coach Mario Cristobal returns for his sixth season as the Panthers' lead man and has turned around a football program that is set to begin its 11th season. FIU has made it to its first two bowl games in back-to-back seasons (def. Toledo in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl) and is also slated to join C-USA in July 2013.

Offensive Player to Watch
Junior running back Kedrick Rhodes broke the FIU single-season rushing record this past season, carrying the ball 234 times for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. The Ocala native has been impressive in his first two seasons and formed a dynamic offensive duo with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The wide receiver would go on to be drafted this offseason to the Indianapolis Colts, providing Rhodes the platform to become the face of this Panther offense. FIU's leading rusher has been labeled as an offensive catalyst by his coaches and has proved to be an every-down back with a varied skillset in pass-catching and pass-blocking. Rhodes rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries against the Knights last season and should give the Knights a tough test on Sept. 15.

Defensive Player to Watch
The Panthers return all but one starter on defense and have a pair of linebackers that continue to stack up tackles and make key contributions on the defensive side of the ball. Inside linebacker Winston Fraser and outside linebacker Jordan Hunt return for their senior seasons, providing years of experience and leadership to a unit that continues to improve day in and day out. Fraser led FIU with 108 tackles while Hunt racked up 85. Both linebackers play with an aggressive, instinctive style and consistently provide pressure to an opponent's backfield. In last year's matchup, Fraser and Hunt combined for 21 tackles and three sacks.

Knight vs. Panther Matchup To Look Out For
One of the keys to success for the Knights will be the ability of UCF tailbacks providing solid pass-protection for quarterback Blake Bortles. In their last matchup, the Panthers managed six sacks and constantly denied the Knights' offense from moving the ball down the field. The key matchup to look out for will be between the Panthers' linebacking corps and the Knights' tailbacks. If UCF's stable of running backs - Latavius Murray, Brynn Harvey and Storm Johnson - can average at least four yards a pop with the occasional big play or two, the Knights offense should give the Bright House crowd much to cheer for in the home opener.