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Grading the FIU offense: Offensive Line paved the way for a big year

The Panther offense among the best in Conference USA led by their offensive line.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Florida International
Offensive Line paved the way.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest mystery entering the 2018 season for Florida International was how would the offense fare given the graduation of three of the program’s greatest performers in Alex McGough, Alex Gardner and Thomas Owens.

12 games later, the answer would be ranking among the top of Conference USA in most major offensive categories, including being second in points per game with an average of 34.6.

As FIU seeks its program record ninth victory in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl against Toledo, let’s take a look at how the offensive graded out this season.

Quarterback: Entering Fall camp, it was unknown who would emerge the winner of the off-season competition between James Morgan and Christian Alexander.

For all intents and purposes, despite not publicly being named the starter, Morgan won the job by opening day.

Marshall v Florida International
James Morgan has had a great season in year one at Florida International.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Following a sub-par debut as a Panther, he turned in the finest single-season performance in program history at the position.

Morgan broke the program single-season record for passing touchdowns (26) and is 65 yards shy of breaking the mark for passing yards. Most importantly, he led the Panthers to within a game of winning their first division crown.

Without question offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky’s scheme has fit the Bowling Green transfer better than the Air Raid offense he struggled in during his two seasons as a Falcon.

The biggest indicator of that may be his completion percentage. Morgan has completed 65.3 percent of his attempts this year, compared to 45.3 last season at Bowling Green.

Mid-season grade: B

End of regular-season grade: A-

Running Back: Butch Davis raved about this being his team’s deepest position heading into 2018.

That depth would be needed early after the loss of senior Anthony Jones following the Indiana game.

D’Vonte Price, Napoleon Maxwell and Shawndarrius Phillips would all contribute in Jones’ absence.

Middle Tennessee v Florida International
D’Vonte Price provides a home-run threat out of the backfield as a rusher and receiver.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Price emerged as the most dynamic of the backs averaging 6.3 yards per carry and led the unit in receptions, while the veteran in Maxwell led the group in carries (121) and yards (672). The 230-pound Phillips’ is the most physical of the group. He saw his carries decrease towards the end of the season as he was hampered by injuries and Jones’ return for the Florida Atlantic game.

Mid-season grade: B+

End of regular-season grade: B+

Wide Receiver: It would be receiver by committee in replacing Thomas Owens’ production from last year.

Florida transfer C.J. Worton led the team in receptions and yards. However, the variance in targets between the leading receivers shows proof that every wideout was involved in the offense.

Worton, Maurice Alexander and Austin Maloney had 54,52 and 50 targets respectively. Maloney led the team in yards per catch with 19.7 and Alexander’s playmaking ability from the slot was of value all-season.

Bryce Singleton had a slow start to 2018 because of injury, but had a solid season and had the highest catch rate of qualifying receivers, hauling in 73.7 percent of his targets.

Mid-season grade: B

End of regular-season grade: B+

Tight End: Entering the bowl game, it looks as if Butch Davis is starting to replicate the depth at tight end that saw him put multiple players at the position in the NFL during his time at the University of Miami.

Freshman Sterling Palmer was consistent all year and had a strong initial campaign with 22 catches and 208 yards.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Miami
Sterling Palmer could be the next pro tight end to be coached by Butch Davis.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The most intriguing prospect about Palmer is his athleticism. At 6’6, 240-pounds, Palmer runs a sub 4.6 40-yard dash and is the most sizeable target on the team.

Fellow freshman Ivan Thomas from Miami Palmetto High School also saw valuable time and is another large target who has the athleticism to cause match-up problems for opposing defenses.

Mid-season grade: B-

End of regular-season grade: A-

Offensive Line: The unit is my MVP of the entire team.

Last season, the line gave up 23 sacks and the number could have been higher if not for McGough being a magician at times. This season they’ve cut that number down to 8.

It starts with sixth-year senior Jordan Budwig at left guard who’s the best lineman of the group. JUCO transfer D’Antne Demery secured the left tackle spot by week two and Dallas Connell and Neal Mars were solid at center.

Rice v Florida International
Shane McGough has come on from being a backup center to solidifying the right guard position for the Panthers.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Shane McGough has been jack of all trades since coming to FIU and emerged at right guard starting eight contests, while veterans Daquane Wilkie and Kai Absheer both started at various positions along the line.

Offensive line coach Allen Mogridge deserves praise for his work with the group.

Mid-season grade: B

End of regular-season grade: A