The trash talk was endless. Tension between both groups was palpable. By the time kickoff came around the atmosphere was electric. This one would be a battle for Miami bragging rights.
Oh yeah, FIU and Miami took the field at Hard Rock Stadium to play a football game.
While the fans outside may still have vivid memories of A’Mod Ned making his way onto the Orange Bowl turf on crutches to jump into the FIU/UM brawl, players on both teams were only in elementary school and to them this was just another football game.
The theme going into this week for the Panthers, was one of wanting to show that they’re not a college football afterthought anymore.
However, the stage of playing against one of the nation’s most tradition rich programs may have been overwhelming.
FIU came into the contest a three-score underdog. So it was known that the young Panthers would have to play their best football in all three phases of the game.
After a quick three and out, Jeff Thomas electrified the crowd with a dazzling punt return touchdown. Luckily, it was wiped off the board by a holding call on the Hurricanes.
Miami’s defense, through three contests, has been one of the top units in the nation and for FIU to have any chance of being in the ballgame, the Panther offensive line would have to rise to the challenge.
Hurricane defensive ends Joe Jackson and Jon Garvin pressured James Morgan from the opening drive. Both combined for a sack and provided numerous hurries that thwarted any attempts to get the pass game going.
Miami’s much-maligned senior quarterback Mailk Rosier led his team on a short drive that ended on a missed fourth and one conversion.
Hurricane head coach Mark Richt made the decision to insert backup N’Kosi Perry for their second drive and he responded by marching the offense on an 87-yard drive that ended in a Travis Homer touchdown run.
When asked post-game linebacker Edwin Freeman said that they weren’t necessarily expecting to see Perry.
“No, we weren’t expecting to see him, but both he and Rosier are both really athletic,” said Freeman.
After the win over UMass, it looked as if Bowling Green transfer James Morgan may have locked up the quarterback job. However, after the second drive FIU inserted Christian Alexander for a handful of drives.
Neither signal-caller was able to crack the Hurricanes code as the Panthers went 1-8 with 14 yards passing and a Morgan interception through the air in the first-half. Morgan would play the rest of the game after Alexander’s two drives in the first quarter.
“I feel really comfortable in the offense and I look the looks we’re getting, I’ll sit down and look at the film, see what I can do better about getting the ball out of my hands more quickly,” said Morgan.
With the struggles that the Panthers faced on offense, one of the few bright spots was punter Stone Wilson. The senior punter finished the day with nine punts for 423 yards and an average of average of 47 yards a kick.
The Panthers fortunes turned from bad to worse when both Sage Lewis and Anthony Johnson were injured late in the second quarter.
Perry had a phenomenal first-half going 12-13 for 170 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt freshman’s performance will certainly give Canes fans plenty to discuss regarding their quarterback situation.
An area that FIU particularly struggled in were third downs. Coming into the game, FIU had been especially efficient in picking up key third-down conversions.
However, the offense didn’t give themselves much of a shot with many of the third-down situations being third and long.
Lawrence Cager started the game in place of the injured Ahmmon Richards and responded with two touchdown grabs.
The FIU offense wouldn’t get their first conversion on offense until 6:40 mark of the third quarter.
Butch Davis’ club didn’t stop fighting despite the outcome of the game being virtually decided. James Morgan would connect with C.J. Worton on a TD pass and recover an onside kick. Morgan would again hookup with Worton on a five-yard touchdown.
The Florida transfer is the younger brother of former UCF wideout J.J. Worton and made an acrobatic grab along the sidelines in the late rally.
“That’s just something my brother and I have been doing our entire lives, James and I have a great connection so when the ball is in the air, I know it’s mine,” said Worton.
“I was really proud of our kids from the standpoint of continuing to fight till the final whistle, I wish we could line up against those guys next week because that’s the only way you get better as a program,” said Davis.
Worton would finish the game with five catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
The young Panther squad can take the game as a learning experience and look forward to next week versus Arkansas Pine-Bluff at Riccardo Silva Stadium.