by Dave Miller
December 20, 02011
After a two-day break, the 2011-12 bowl season continues Tuesday night with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg between Florida International and Marshall.
Mario Cristobal has FIU in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history while Marshall has returned to the postseason under second-year head coach Doc Holliday. This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs.
Let’s take a look at this contest a little more closely…
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6) at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
ICONMario Cristobal has FIU in the postseason for the second straight year.
The Golden Panthers put together an eight-win season under Cristobal, whose name has been linked to multiple openings this offseason. The fifth-year head coach led FIU to its best season in school history -- including winning its first-ever game against a BCS automatic qualifying opponent at Louisville in early September -- and will be making its second-ever bowl appearance after claiming a win over Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl last year. This fall, FIU tied Florida State for most wins in the Sunshine State, which is a real coup for Cristobal and the program.
FIU has battled inconsistency on offense, as uneven play from fifth-year senior quarterback Wesley Carroll and a banged-up T.Y. Hilton have stalled the offense, and settling for too many field goals and not enough touchdowns in the red zone has also hampered this unit. Sophomore running back Kedrick Rhodes, however, has been steady all season, rushing for 1,121 yards. A big play or two from Hilton tonight would also go a long way toward a victory.
Marshall, meanwhile, won its final two games to become bowl eligible. And the Thundering Herd have done it with grit while defying the odds, as they rank 98th in points for (22 ppg) and 84th in points against (30.2). Two defenders who have stood out, however, are senior end Vinny Curry, who has 11 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles, and senior DB Rashad Jackson, who has four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Curry was named the C-USA defensive player of the year and has a bright NFL future. He will try to make life difficult for Carroll or Jake Medlock -- whoever starts at QB for FIU. Cristobal has yet to name a starter after Carroll returned from his benching to step in for Medlock when he went down to injury. The good news for FIU is that the offensive line has allowed just 13 sacks this season.
Poor quarterback play has really affected Marshall, as true freshman Rakeem Cato and A.J. Graham have underwhelmed. Cato has thrown 13 touchdowns but also has 10 interceptions, while Graham has tossed 7 touchdowns against 4 picks. Cato will start after being benched midway through the year, and Graham will miss this contest because of a shoulder injury. Can Cato play as well as he did in the overtime win over East Carolina that helped the Herd get bowl eligible? Running back Tron Martinez, who averages 4.1 yards per carry, will need to be efficient on the ground and out of the backfield as a safety-net pass-catcher for Cato.
Keep an eye on: The FIU return game. Hilton, who has 950 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for another 101 yards on 16 carries, will be the most explosive player in this game. He's returned a punt for a touchdown and added a 77-yard kickoff return in the regular-season finale, and he's the main reason why FIU finished the season as the best punt-returning squad in the nation. He says his hamstring injury is healed, and keep in mind that he was the main reason FIU beat Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl last year -- catching a touchdown, scoring on a kickoff return and converting on a hook-and-ladder on fourth-and-17.
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