There will be a lot of new faces involved in the 19th Shula Bowl matchup of the FAU Owls against the FIU Panthers on Friday at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
Florida Atlantic (3-1, 3-1 Conference USA) enters the game against its conference in-state rival FIU (0-3, 0-1 C-USA) with a head coach, multiple coordinators and players who haven’t experienced the rivalry between the South Florida programs.
“I had to ask why it’s called the Shula Bowl,” said Drew Mehringer, FAU co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, who coached in multiple Texas-Oklahoma rivalry games during his time on the Longhorns coaching staff. “Trophy games are always a lot of fun. This one’s fun, and you can feel it from our kids. [FIU’s] going to get up for this one, I promise you that.”
FAU defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who’s coached in the Kansas-Kansas State and USF-UCF rivalries, can appreciate the intensity leading up Friday’s matchup.
“Most of these guys know each other from high school and everybody’s going to play their best Friday night," Leavitt said. "It’s going to take our best game to have a chance to win, I know that.”
FAU coach Willie Taggart has already embraced the spirit of the Shula Bowl rivalry, expecting for there to be a greater sense of urgency from the Owls and Panthers with bragging rights for the next year on the line.
“All I need to know is we don’t like each other,” Taggart said. “Everyone let me know from day one that one of the most important games on the schedule is that game.”
The FAU-FIU matchup is one the Owls have dominated, especially recently. Florida Atlantic has a 13-4 all-time win advantage against FIU and has won the past three Shula Bowls by a 138-45 margin.
Even though FIU hasn’t won a game this season and will be playing for the first time in three weeks on Friday, FAU knows to expect the best game the Panthers can play.
“Playing these rivalry games, you have to throw the records out the window," FAU senior safety Zion Gilbert said. "When it comes to rivalry games, they’re all intense, everyone’s locked in and super focused.”
There’s a chance FAU could have a new starting quarterback for Friday’s matchup.
Javion Posey replaced Nick Tronti as the Owls' quarterback during the fourth quarter of FAU’s 10-6 win over Western Kentucky last week. The redshirt freshman led the Owls to a game-winning drive in the closing minutes, finishing with a team-high 60 rushing yards on nine attempts and scored the game-winning touchdown on the ground.
Tronti, who was 7 of 16 for 108 yards through the game’s first three quarters, is 47 of 87 for 490 yards to go along with three passing touchdowns and an interception on the season. The redshirt junior started at quarterback in FAU’s first four games.
Taggart said the team hadn’t decided who’ll start at quarterback as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Both guys have had a really good week of practice,” he said. “It’s amazing what competition does. I’ve seen a difference out of both of those guys, but I’ve also seen a difference out of our offense at practice.”
Taggart’s hoping whoever starts at quarterback Friday will give the Owls a much-needed offensive boost, with FAU’s scoring offense (16 points per game) ranked No. 112 in the nation out of 123 teams.
The Owls have only scored eight touchdowns in their first four games.
“We need to score," Taggart said. "We need some touchdowns. We’ve got to be able to play some consistent football on the offensive side of the ball.”
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