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FIU Football Notebook: Five Defining Moments of 2019

The 2019 season has been one filled with frustrating moments for the Panthers.

Old Dominion v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

As the Panthers are in the midst of their bye week sitting with a .500 record and two games left to play, there have been plenty of moments that have filled the team and fans alike with frustration.

Coming off a loss to rival Florida Atlantic, FIU needs a win versus crosstown rival Miami, or division foe Marshall to become bowl-eligible.

However, with the wealth of Group of Five teams who are or potentially will be bowl-eligible, there’s no guarantee that six victories will send Butch Davis’ team to its third postseason appearance in as many years under his helm.

Let’s take a look back at five moments that have defined the year for the team that began 2019 with conference championship aspirations.

Nightmare in New Orleans

Throughout the offseason, the refrain coming from players and coaches alike, was, through tightening up fundamentals and technique, an FIU defense that finished 92nd in FBS football in rushing yards allowed per game (192.2) would be improved.

That would be put to the test immediately on opening night at Tulane. The Green Wave jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead, en route to a 42-14 victory that saw Tulane rush for 360 yards - the most ever allowed by an FIU team to start the season.

Captain Morgan Goes Down

One of the biggest reasons for FIU’s nine-win season in 2018 was undoubtedly the play of quarterback James Morgan.

After a seesaw career at Bowling Green, he found renewed life under offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky in Miami, winning C-USA’s Newcomer of the Year honors. Entering 2019, Morgan was selected for various preseason awards and expectations were that he would build on the prior year’s success.

On a third-down play midway through the second quarter of the Panthers’ home-opener, Morgan suffered a knee injury as he was trying to extend a play. While he’s only missed six quarters of football, it’s painfully obvious that Morgan has been operating at less than 100%.

Morgan has been wearing a brace and a sleeve since the injury.
Eric Henry

His numbers (148-252, 1,852, 10-2) while not bad, are certainly pedestrian compared to last year's 26td's.

One Play For The Win

The aforementioned home-opener against Western Kentucky was supposed to be a rebound game for the Panthers.

Following the Tulane loss, FIU welcomed the WKU team coming off a loss to FCS Central Arkansas.

However, spurred by a dominating pass-rush, WKU held the FIU offense to just seven points and under 40 yards passing at the half. Following the Morgan injury, Kaylan Wiggins would make his collegiate debut but would have little success moving the offense.

On the Panthers’ final offensive drive of the game, Morgan re-entered the contest after Wiggins was injured and FIU was faced with the prospect of inserting Caleb Lynum, who also hadn’t taken a collegiate snap. On 4th-and-goal from the WKU 16-yard line, Morgan delivered a dart to Tony Gaiter IV that would have put FIU ahead, however, Gaiter couldn’t secure the catch as he was sandwiched between two Hilltopper defensive backs.

Monsoon in Murfreesboro

Having won their previous three games, it appeared that Butch Davis’ team had put their disappointing 1-3 start behind them when they took the field in Murfreesboro for an NFL Network showcase game against Middle Tennessee.

What ensued was another game that the Panthers let get away from them. They took a three-point lead into halftime, but when they returned to the field, the skies opened up in providing a torrential downpour on both teams.

However, MTSU handled the inclement weather significantly better than FIU, scoring 36 unanswered points and rushing for 471 - the second-most given up in program history. The result was a 50-17 win by a Blue Raider team who came into the contest 2-5.

Arguably, the most disheartening stat in the loss - Blue Raider running backs Terelle West and Jayy McDonald combined for just 127 yards on 24 carries in the seven games prior.

In the MTSU win alone - they racked up 18 carries for 236 yards and four touchdowns.

1,134 Days - But Who’s Counting

After the emotional win on senior day over Old Dominion, FIU turned to a rivalry game with their arch-nemesis an hour north in Florida Atlantic.

The Panthers entered the game without running back Anthony Jones and a well-respected senior leader in receiver Maurice Alexander. While it was known that getting the victory on the road would be a tough task, few could have predicted just how over-matched FIU would look.

Another one-score game at the half turned into 24 unanswered points, as FAU routed FIU by a final score of 37-7.

Florida International v Florida Atlantic
The Owls retain possession of the Don Shula Trophy for the third-straight year.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Owls’ victory was highlighted by 261 rushing yards and holding FIU to just 37 rushing yards outside of a Napoleon Maxwell 75-yard touchdown. FAU head coach Lane Kiffin wasn’t shy about making it known how long it’s been since a Panther victory in the rivalry.

“I’m happy for our players and fans - 365 days to brag - that’s a thousand straight days,” said Kiffin in his on-field postgame interview.

Florida International v Florida Atlantic
Lane Kiffin has won all three of his outings against FIU.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

While he was 134 days off on his estimate, he elaborated on what the victory meant to his program in his postgame presser.

“You would like to think it impacts recruiting if you have three dominant wins over your rival who are from right down the road. I told our coaches on headset during the game, if you guys lose a recruit after these three games - you guys ain’t recruiting well,” said Kiffin.