At the midway point of the season, FIU can’t change the poor start to the season. However, the team has played their best games of the season in the previous two outings and will look to carry the momentum down the stretch.
Let’s grade the season to this point.
James Morgan was under duress during the first two contests and missed the third due to injury. Since then, he’s resembled the player who won C-USA’s Newcomer of the Year award last season. Despite the seesaw start, he’s done a solid job of protecting the football with seven TDs to two INTs. Kaylan Wiggins saw his first collegiate start against New Hampshire and used his legs to set the single-game record for rushing yards in a game by a Panther quarterback with 187.
Similarly to the quarterbacks, the rushing attack got off to a slow start in the first three games, but has picked up in the last three. It’s no coincidence that as the offensive line has steadied, the entire offense has looked better. Napoleon Maxwell is coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances, while D’Vonte Price looked healthy for the first time last week. The reliable Anthony Jones leads the unit in yards with 410.
Once again, the play of the receivers has to be graded somewhat on a curve, as the offense as a whole has looked like two completely different units from the first three games to the second three.
Veterans Tony Gaiter IV and Shemar Thornton deserve praise for always being ready and have performed well in elevated roles this season. Austin Maloney has had some inconsistencies but still is ever-present as a deep threat leading the team with 20.3 yards per catch. Maurice Alexander rounds out the group from his slot position with similar numbers to last year.
Sterling Palmer has had somewhat of a reduced role this season with 10 catches for 121 yards. Beyond that, David O’Meara has again picked up in his role as a blocker, while true freshman Kamaeron Williams has served in a variety of roles (TE/FB/H-Back) while appearing in every game this year.
There’s no denying that the first half of the season has been a struggle for Allen Mogridge’s unit. The positive is that in the past two games, they’ve looked like the group that was one of the best in the nation last season. Shane McGough and Dallas Connell have swapped spots at guard and center, while the talented D’Antne Demery struggled against Tulane and WKU. Shaq Williams and Mershawn Miller are in rotation at the other guard spot and the rotation is starting to fill in with Lyndell Hudson Jr. playing at tackle. The biggest question mark has to be their ability to protect the passer, they’ve been inconsistent at best, but look to be coming together.
It’s a veteran group that is still looking to breakout for the Panthers. Only four sacks have come from the line which lands them last in C-USA and their play against the run has been spotty. Transfers Alexy Jean-Baptiste and Chris Whittaker have given the pass-rush a boost, and the group did a good job against Charlotte’s Benny Lemay, who’s given FIU fits in previous matchups. Andrew Tarver and Rashad Colson have worked their way into the starting lineup, while Teair Tart has shown intermittent flashes of his enormous talent. Kevin Oliver leads the group in tackles (20) and sacks (1.5).
Sage Lewis is a known commodity at MIKE linebacker. However, the play of junior Jamal Gates has been solid. He leads the team in tackles (41) and has fared well in pass coverage. For a majority of the season, the Panthers have operated out of a 4-2-5 look, so Gates and Lewis have spent the bulk of the time on the field.
The defensive backfield has been the strongest group on the team so far. The group leads C-USA in fewest passing TD’s allowed (6) and is second in interceptions (6). Stantley Thomas-Oliver III has performed like a lockdown corner, with the number of targets coming his way lessening by the week. Rishard Dames has elevated his play in 2019, while Ike Brown leads the team in PBU’s with four.
Kicker Jose Borregales appears to be back on track after a rough start to the season. He’ll be needed for the Panthers’ to make a push down the stretch. JUCO transfer Tommy Heatherly has put his nightmare performance against Tulane in the rearview, leading C-USA in yards per punt and 50+ yard punts. Borregales and Estin Thiele combine to place second in the conference with 19 touchbacks. Alexander’s 90-yard punt return TD proves why he’s one of the most dangerous returners in the nation.