You saw my preview and prediction for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between FIU and Toledo on Sunday night in Detroit. Now here are three keys for each team:
1. T.Y. Hilton everywhere. For FIU to have a shot, Hilton is going to need to have one of his monster games. He has had several of those this season, including his performance against ULM when he had 291 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns. Those scores came three different ways -- a reception, a run and a kickoff return. Hilton can line up at receiver and running back and also plays special teams, so Toledo is going to have to make sure it has a man on him at all times.
2. Avoid turnovers. FIU is the second-most penalized team in the country, so it cannot afford to make costly mistakes. Toledo is excellent at forcing turnovers, and one of the best in the nation with 33 takeaways. Toledo has 19 interceptions, and FIU quarterback Wes Carroll has thrown his share of picks this season (13). However, the Rockets have also struggled against the pass at times this season. FIU must take advantage there with some big plays to Hilton to help open up the passing game against a defense that has been excellent against the run.
3. Keep cool. One of the few people in the FIU program with bowl experience is Carroll, who played for Mississippi State when the Bulldogs faced UCF in the Liberty Bowl in 2007. Perhaps he can relate his experiences to his teammates to help keep them calm. This is going to be a true away game, as FIU has had a hard time selling tickets. The Panthers would have preferred to play closer to home, but have to avoid the “just happy to be here” feeling.
1. Terrance Owens or Austin Dantin? Owens is set to start the game, but Dantin has returned to practice after injuring his shoulder in October and could come on in relief should Owens struggle. Coach Tim Beckman said Dantin has looked a little rusty in practice, but had not decided whether his starter would see time in the game. Owens is more mobile, but Dantin has the better arm. So perhaps he may just wait and see how the game progresses.
2. Eric Page alert. Just as FIU has Hilton, Toledo has Page. He led the team in receiving this season and will most likely be paired up against Anthony Gaitor, FIU’s best cornerback. Page had a terrific game against the Panthers when the two teams met last season, catching five passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Page is better this season, but of course the big question is who is going to get him the ball. Toledo also has receiver Kenny Stafford (6-foot-4) as a big-play target as well.
3. Dan Molls and Archie Donald watch. The top tackling tandem in the nation with a combined 167 total tackles, Molls and Donald are going to be instrumental in slowing down FIU -- especially Hilton when he lines up in the backfield. Donald will become the first player in school history to lead the team in tackles in three consecutive seasons should he finish with more takedowns than Molls in the game.