The excitement surrounding Riccardo Silva Stadium was palpable. The 2018 FIU Panthers were excited to make a statement that last season was no fluke.
Early on it looked as if they might have been too excited.
The question of who would start the game under center for FIU was answered 20 minutes before kickoff when Bowling Green transfer James Morgan was announced over the PA system as the starter.
However, mistakes plagued the Panther offense early on.
Maurice Alexander, making his debut at receiver, fumbled a would-be first down reception. The Panthers compounded their mistakes by ending up in multiple third and long situations in the first quarter.
“The things that went wrong tonight are all fixable and that’s a positive,” said FIU Head Coach Butch Davis.
In person it’s easy to see how talented Morgan is behind center. The ball jumps off his arm with ease. However, the issues that affected him at Bowling Green showed themselves.
Morgan was intercepted by Indiana senior cornerback Jonathan Crawford, who would take the errant pass 33 yards to the end zone.
“We’ll continue to play both guys until one of them separates themselves,” said Davis.
The Panthers would turn to the running game which looked as good as advertised coming into the season.
After missing the majority of 2017, running back Anthony Jones looked dynamic. He showed flashes of his speed when ripping off a 36-yard TD run which was his second of the first half.
The FIU defense would create a turnover when redshirt freshman Dorian Hall picked off Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey.
However, the Hoosiers would respond by marching down the field as Ramsey tossed an 18-yard TD to his giant target in 6’5, 230-pound wideout Donovan Hale. Panther fans will be happy to see Hale and Ramsey leave South Florida as that combo would cripple FIU all night long.
Morgan would take the first three drives of the evening, then Christian Alexander would come make his first appearance of 2018.
The redshirt sophomore provided a spark for the offense, going 6-8 for 67 yards and using his legs to extend plays.
But turnovers were an issue again, as Alexander would fumble a snap from center inside of IU territory. Ramsey was especially deadly in clutch situations. The sophomore went 17-24 with three pass TD’s in the first-half.
Morgan would start the second half and unfortunately for FIU, the struggles continued. A sack-strip on second down would put the offense in third and long which ended in a Stone Wilson punt.
Tampa native Michael Pennix Jr. would come on for the first Hoosier drive of the second half and led the offense to a touchdown, on a drive that was prolonged by a controversial pass interference call against Dorian Hall.
“I thought he did a great job of playing through the ball, but it’s a judgement call and up to the officials whether it’s pass interference or not,” said Davis.
FIU showed plenty of fight, marching down the field with the run game and Shawndarrius Phillips TD would make it 35-21.
Morgan would lead the Panthers on a late drive touchdown drive completing two passes to University of Florida transfer C.J. Worton who would finish with five catches for 69 yards on the night.
Linebacker Sage Lewis seemed to echo the theme of the night which was that FIU has to get to better start in ballgames.
“When you look at it this is really a lot of guys on defense first time playing together, we have to get off to a quicker start on defense and be physical,” said Lewis post-game.
The Panthers will look bounce back next week as they start conference play against Old Dominion.