Coming into Saturday’s season-finale versus Marshall, FIU had for the most part played fundamentally sound football.
Unfortunately, miscues that they’ve been able avoid all season long appeared at the most inconvenient of times.
“The statistics say you have a 75 percent less chance of winning when you have a blocked punt for a touchdown. The missed field-goals and the pick-six, it’s a crazy game,” said FIU head coach Butch Davis post-game.
The Panthers have routinely found a way to overcome minor mistakes to win games the year. But those major ones combined with a few missed targets and scoring opportunities sunk FIU’s chances at a conference championship.
However, as disappointing as the loss was it was announced that FIU will head to the Bahamas Bowl to take on the 7-5 Toledo Rockets of the MAC.
While it was clear that Davis was disappointed at the loss, the mood post-game was the least tense of any loss this season. Davis opened the presser by asking reporters how their holidays were and left time for additional questions before leaving the podium.
“The really good news is this isn’t the end of our season. We still have a chance to get that ninth victory and send the seniors our properly,” said Davis.
The Rockets finished the regular season second in their conference in rushing. Their four-headed attack has consisted of running backs Bryant Koback, Shakif Seymour, Art Thompkins and quarterback Mitchell Guadgani.
Guadgani will miss the contest with a shoulder injury and backup Eli Peters will start.
Toledo averages over 223 yards per game on the ground. They’ll certainly look to exploit an FIU run defense that has had its struggles throughout the season.
The Panthers ended the year ranked 98th in run defense, giving up an average of 197.9 yards a contest.
“Teams are spreading you out now, they’re making you cover the entire field. There’s some things either scheme wise and or personnel wise that we’ll have to take a long look at in the off-season. When teams line up in four wide-receiver sets and you only have five guys in the box, it’s going to be hard to stop the run,” said Davis.
This quote was especially telling because it sounded like Davis realizes that the way they approach stopping the run will have to fundamentally change next year.
For what it’s worth, defensive coordinator Brent Guy’s units at Tulsa ranked ninth in the nation in tackles for loss in his final three seasons with the Golden Hurricane.
While most of the Panthers haven’t seen a MAC opponent, one player who is greatly familiar with Toledo is quarterback James Morgan.
The Bowling Green transfer had a see-saw career as a Falcon. But his best performance in Brown and Orange came in his fourth career collegiate start.
Morgan went 25-38 for 335 yards and five touchdown passes against loss against Toledo in 2016.
Both current Rockets head coach Jason Candle and defensive coordinator Brian George were in their respective positions at Toledo in 2016.
The Bahamas Bowl berth is only the fourth bowl game in the 17-year history of the program. However, it’s the second consecutive bowl appearance in as many years since Davis has taken over the team.
“The old FIU would have just quit, we wouldn’t have known how to rebound. But now were just looking forward to this bowl game and getting a chance to win,” said Napoleon Maxwell.