This had all the makings of the proverbial “trap” game.
However, FIU would be more than up to the task.
The Panthers had their best showing of the season in their 63-24 victory over UMass. Win number two (which equals some national prognostications) for Butch Davis’ team wasn’t flawless.
But it was their most well-rounded performance on an evening that got off to a somewhat auspicious start.
About 75 minutes before kick-off, officials sent FIU into their second lightning delay in as many weeks. An hour later, both teams hurriedly took the field in full pads to get an abbreviated warm-up in.
Going into the game one question for Panther fans was the availability of star DE/LB Fermin Silva.
The question would be answered quickly as he came out fired up and loudly pumped up his teammates. The issue is he was in street clothes. Despite being announced as a starter, Silva was a late scratch due to a tweaked ankle at ODU last week.
James Morgan got off to a much-needed quick start after beginning the last two contests with first-quarter interceptions.
“Every game Morgan’s played in he’s gotten better and he’s getting us out of bad plays and into good ones with audibles,” said Davis.
He went 4-7 for 60 yards, including a highlight-reel diving grab by running back Shawndarrius Phillips.
“Honestly...I knew I was gonna make that grab,” said Phillips with a confident smile.
“It got on me pretty quick and seemed out of reach, but I knew I just had to make something happen for my team,” he added.
With starting running back Anthony Jones out for the foreseeable future after being injured in a random drive-by shooting, the Panther backfield depth lived up to its preseason billing.
Phillips had a monster game with a career-high 117 yards rushing. Napoleon Maxwell and D’Vonte Price would give FIU over 120 yards on the ground before halftime. The ground attack as a whole was extremely efficient, helping put Morgan in positions to succeed.
Coming off his performance against Old Dominion there was a feeling that Morgan could end the spirited quarterback competition between him and fellow redshirt junior Christian Alexander.
He did just that having one of the best games of his collegiate career.
The book on Morgan was that he is supremely talented and just as inconsistent. In his last six quarters of football, he’s thrown four TD’s and has completed over 65 percent of his passes.
It appears that Davis and offensive coordinator Rich Skorsky are on the road to helping the former four-star recruit realize his potential.
Morgan would finish the night going 16-23 for 207 yards and two touchdown passes.
Quarterback turned receiver Maurice Alexander was a dynamic weapon. Saturday’s game certainly validated his decision to move to wideout after the Spring.
He took a swing pass 38 yards slicing his way through the UMass defense for a touchdown and added a video-game esque 69-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter.
“When Maurice came to us wanting to play wideout we felt that he had the potential to be a dynamic weapon as receiver and a returner and you got to see that tonight,” said Davis.
The Minutemen offense was virtually anemic most of the night.
UMass head coach Mark Whipple rotated both Ross Comis and Andrew Ford. However, neither signal-caller would make a difference. Ford was picked off by freshman Rocky Jacques-Louis for a pick-six, ending any hopes of a miracle Minutemen comeback.
Next up for FIU is the much-anticipated showdown between them and crosstown rival Miami at Hard Rock Stadium.
Phillips echoed the sentiment shared by Davis and many FIU players.
“This is an opportunity to showcase this program and show that we’re not the same FIU.”