Coming off the bye week, Butch Davis stated that his team was ready to put their anemic start to the season behind them. The Panthers emphatic trouncing of UMass backed up their head coach’s proclamation.
They’ll look to carry the momentum of the program’s second ever shutout into a crucial division matchup with Charlotte.
Since the start of Davis’ tenure as FIU’s head coach, the Panthers ability to stop the run has been a consistent issue. In 2017, they ranked 7th in C-USA, followed by a 12th place finish last season, and entering the UMass game they were 13th out of 14 teams.
All of the above makes the defense’s effort on Saturday noteworthy.
The defense held UMass to 38 net rushing yards on the evening - tying a mark for the 5th fewest rushing yards allowed in a game (2015 vs North Carolina Central) in program history.
“It’s all about discipline, really. The biggest mistakes we’ve made when we’ve had trouble against the run has been guys doing more than their responsibility,” said Davis.
An emphasis on playing the proper gaps against the run has been noted since fall camp.
“We’re a gap control defense. I tell the guys, don’t jump inside thinking that’s where you think the ball-carrier is going, because any back with vision is going to bounce to the open gap and gain huge chunks of yards,” said Davis.
Through the first four games, the FIU offensive line has looked like a group that’s still finding their footing. After a 2018 season that saw the unit allow only eight sacks, they had allowed four in the first month of the year and their efforts to spring the rushing attack were just as futile.
Saturday night saw them keep quarterback James Morgan clean for the majority of the evening and pave the way for 278 rushing yards. Arguably of most importance, they played nine linemen for the first time this year - a target number for Davis.
“Sometimes, and I hate saying it this way - God kind of gives you what you need. Demery had to miss the first-half tonight and it allowed Lyndell Hudson Jr. and Devontay Taylor to flip, plus Danny Corbett gets in and we were able play different guys,” said Davis.
Morgan also noted the play of the line.
“Those guys are my closest friends on the team and Lyndell did a phenomenal job. It was awesome to see him out there,” said Morgan.
Tony Gaiter IV
In his first three seasons a Panther, Tony Gaiter IV has been a steady player - but not quite enough to be a mainstay at the top of the receiver depth chart.
Now, as a senior, Gaiter IV is the leading receiver on the team (19-274-1) and had his best career game Saturday night, hauling in seven catches for 103 yards and one touchdown.
“Tony Gaiter made tremendous strides in the offseason, he put in the work to lose weight so he could get faster, his 40-time was in the 4.6 range and I know he’s got that down a bit and you see the results tonight,” said Davis.
Gaiter IV confirmed the added quickness in his postgame comments.
“Yeah, I’m in the 4.4-4.5 range, I just wanted to drop some weight to help my yards after catch and help the team,” said Gaiter IV.
Stopping Benny Lemay
There’s no two ways about it - FIU has to be able to slow Charlotte running back Benny Lemay in order to win this Saturday.
C-USA’s leading rusher has had his best career success at the expense of the Panther defense. In two previous games, Lemay has rushed for a combined 337 yards and six touchdowns.
Last season, the 5-9, 215-pound Lemay almost single-handedly carried the Niners to an upset victory over FIU. He had 30 carries for 159 yards and four TDs in Charlotte’s 42-35 loss last November.
- When talking about fellow receiver Maurice Alexander’s speed on his punt return TD, Gaiter IV offered this, “I tell him all the time, he has a little Jamaican in him. He just doesn’t know it.”
- FIU’s defensive coaching staff were especially ecstatic after the win. The first two coaches out of the coaches’ box were cornerbacks coach Bryn Renner and co-Defensive Coordinator Jeff Copp, who hurried down to meet the team.
- Alexander was asked by a reporter how this game could give them momentum for the late season contest against Miami. He quickly replied, "Do we play Miami next week?"
- The 115 total net yards allowed set a program record for fewest given up in a game, breaking a 14-year-old mark of 154 set against Florida A&M in 2005.