The Gasparilla Bowl Will Be A Fun Matchup Like The Name, Which Honors The Mythical Spanish Pirate Jose Gaspar: What To Watch
St. Petersburg, FL — Butch Davis did an incredible job at FIU this year. The Panthers doubled their victory total from last season, improving from 4 wins to 8. A victory over the Owls Thursday night at Tropicana Field would give the Panthers most wins since 2004.
How Geoff Collins’ turned around Temple after a brutal 3-5 start was remarkable. The Owls (6-6), are seeking to finish with a winning record in Collins’ first season; potentially in hostile territory with FIU just 3.5 hours from home.
FIU and Temple are evenly matched on paper. However, each team had completely different avenues to the Gasparilla Bowl. The Panthers became bowl-eligible in early November after defeating UTSA. The Owls beat Tulsa in the regular season finale, reaching the six wins necessary to qualify for a bowl.
Both first-year coaches did phenomenal jobs getting their teams to this point. The winner of the Gasparilla Bowl will springboard their program into the conversation of “the best group of five team” next year. Look for one of these coaches to have their name in the coaching carousel next season for power-five jobs.
What To Watch: McGough Vs. The Temple Defense
FIU led the NCAA in red zone offense this season scoring 39 times out of 40 trips.
It starts with FIU’s quarterback Alex McGough, who’s completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. McGough could become FIU’s first 3,000-yard passer for a season.
Davis, who also had head coaching stints at North Carolina, the Cleveland Browns in addition to his time at Miami, thinks very highly of McGough, whom he calls “one of the best quarterbacks that I’ve been around at all levels of coaching.”
McGough will try to navigate the Temple defense while avoiding defensive ends Jacob Martin (8 sacks) and Sharif Finch (7.5 sacks).
“Defensively, they give you a lot of bad plays,” said Davis of Temple’s pressure. “Their front four guys on the defensive line and their linebackers they move very well, they can come off the edges, pressure you an awful lot. I got great respect for Geoff for not only what he did here at FIU but what he did at Florida…”
FIU will have to utilize the run game effectively to slow down Temple’s pass rush. Most noteworthy, McGough must use his legs to buy himself time and move the chains to reach the red zone.
Can Nutile Maintain the Magic?
Offensively, the Owls enter the Gasparilla Bowl on fire. Since quarterback Frank Nutile took over in late October, the unit has stabilized behind a flashy passing attack and consistent ground game.
“On the offensive side of the ball a dramatic change in Temple’s entire season happened when they made the quarterback change,” Davis said. “[Nutile] does a great job throwing the ball, makes really good decisions. Their running backs are very, very good. They are big and physical on the offensive line.”
Nutile started the last five games. After a loss to Army in his first start, threw four touchdown passes against Navy to get the Owls rolling. He has completed 60.5 percent of his attempts for 1,346 yards with 11 touchdowns, winning three of four games gaining bowl eligibility.
Keep an eye on sophomore receiver Isaiah Wright from Temple. He will test the FIU defense deep and keep them on their toes if he goes into the backfield.
Temple has a balanced offense, featuring running backs David Hood and Ryquell Armstead combining for 1,115 and eight touchdowns.
Nutile need to be next to perfect on Thursday as margin for error is small with FIU having the crowd advantage. The Owls will look to control the line scrimmage dominating the time of possession.
Prediction: Vegas has Temple as a seven-point favorite due to their defense. FIU will have enough offense to overcome and pull the upset.
FIU 24 – Temple 23