When I asked Butch Davis following Wednesday’s practice what was needed to upset Miami, he responded by emphasizing playing fundamental football and not having timely miscues.
With all due respect to Davis, there’s no way he could have envisioned that his Panthers would turn it around like they did in Saturday’s 30-24 upset of the Hurricanes.
Here are the odds and ends from the stadium on Saturday.
The Bye Week
Following the Florida Atlantic loss, Davis stated that he hoped the bye week would be an opportunity for his team to heal from the wear and tear of the season.
There’s no doubt that the 13-day layoff helped various players - most importantly quarterback James Morgan and linebacker Sage Lewis.
“Once I got fully healthy - thank God for the bye week - I knew that there was going to be no more of teams rushing yards on us and I’d be able to showcase my talents,” said Lewis.
After suffering the knee injury against Western Kentucky, Morgan has been wearing a knee brace and sleeve over the knee. Postgame, he was insistent that he was okay.
“I feel fine, the knee wasn’t a big deal,” said Morgan.
While he shrugged off suggestions that his health may have been a factor, the biggest tell that the bye week helped the injury - Morgan took the field without the brace for first time since the Louisiana Tech game.
A “Home” game.
From the moment it was announced that FIU’s final home game of the year would take place at Marlins Park, there underlying feeling was that it would be an unofficial home game for the Hurricanes.
The atmosphere in and around Marlins Park made it clear that the Panthers would be facing a partisan Miami fanbase.
“We knew there would be a lot of noise and most of them would be Miami fans, so we added the crowd noise last week and this week,” said Davis.
Expecting Miami fans may have been in the cards - being overwhelmingly booed in your home city is another. When the Hurricanes took the field, it sounded like memories of the old Orange Bowl - as for the Panthers - this unquestionably was the toughest they’ve played in.
“We don’t play in a lot of games where the crowd noise is like that, so I’m proud of the way we handled it,” said Davis.
The players’ reaction to being jeered in a home game was embracing the moment.
“We feed off of that. If it wasn’t a rivalry before, it definitely is now,” said Morgan, Lewis, kicker Jose Borregales and running back Anthony Jones in unison postgame.
Davis was especially complimentary of Co-Defensive Coordinators Jeff Copp and Jerod Kruse for the game-plan that they put together against the Hurricanes.
“I thought Jeff Copp and Jerod Kruse did an excellent job this week. Putting together a plan that allowed our secondary to go make plays and we executed to a tee tonight, “ said Davis.
Cornerback Isaiah Brown had an excellent game, recording seven tackles (2 solo), a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
Lewis said that film work during the week played a factor.
"It all came down to film. They were running their RPO (run-pass option) offense and we were able to read the quarterback. The interceptions me and Jamal (Gates) had, we did a good job of staying underneath and not biting on the run," said Lewis.
Maybe the two most stats indicative of how well the defense performed - Miami went 1-of-10 on third downs in the game and Hurricane quarterback Jarren Williams didn’t complete a pass in the second-half till just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers’ defense also stopped Miami multiple times inside of their redzone, making the difference between a win and a loss, given the one-score outcome of the game.
- Morgan accepted an invite to the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg following the conclusion of the season. Other players tentatively being looked at for postseason games are Lewis and cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver.
- Davis is rarely defiant in interviews. However, when asked about his reaction to the crowd booing FIU’s cramping during the game, he was stern in his tone. “I’d like for them to take a look at our medical reports, our medical people have tracked how many practices have been missed by players - we’re over 700. It’s a shame when someone gets injured and people boo, we didn’t boo when their kid broke his elbow.”
- Morgan opened his postgame remarks by dedicating the victory to former FIU cornerback Emmanuel Lubin, who passed away in a car accident in the offseason and receiver Maurice Alexander, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Old Dominion victory.
- Lewis made headlines by echoing a common refrain from FIU fans. "We were calling them Coral Gables University during the week. We're the real Miami university," said Lewis postgame.
- As the clocked ticked down, several Hurricane fans could be seen giving lewd gestures to the FIU bench. The FIU players responded by giving them "The U" hand sign upside-down. Shemar Thornton also gave the upside-down U following his touchdown.
- Davis spent six seasons as head coach of Miami. He was emotional following the win on the grounds where his head coaching career started. "This could be the biggest win I've ever had here. Can I sleep here tonight," said Davis.