10 days ago, the FIU Panthers entered the season with hopes of competing for a Conference USA title. After their 20-14 loss to Western Kentucky, FIU is just looking to prevent the season from turning into a complete freefall.
The most pressing question following the game - what’s the status of starting quarterback James Morgan.
“It was one of those things that was 50-50 at halftime. James was itching to get back in, but you have to think about what’s best of the protection of the player. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, but we expect him to be ready for next week,” said Butch Davis.
Before the Morgan injury, FIU wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders offensively. The Panthers’ offense generated only 91 yards on 30 plays in the first half, the majority of which came with Morgan on the field.
Redshirt sophomore Kaylan Wiggins made his collegiate debut late in the second quarter and looked much more comfortable using his athleticism to make plays outside of the pocket, rather than remaining inside as a passer.
“We run the same plays in practice with all of our quarterbacks, because there’s not enough practice time to run different schemes. Kaylan can throw the ball, it’s just a matter of him becoming comfortable and getting experience,” said Davis.
Outside of the offensive woes, the FIU defense resembled its 2018 form, forcing two turnovers.
The most exciting play of the game for the home team was cornerback Rishard Dames’ leaping one-handed interception and ensuing 80-yard return for a touchdown, which was helped with a block thrown by twin brother Richard.
“It actually was a busted coverage on my part, but I made up for it getting the pick and then Rich was there on the sideline letting me know that he threw a block for me,” said Rishard Dames.
For the visiting Hilltoppers, they made just enough plays to get the victory, which, for a rebuilding team that’s coming off of a loss to an FCS opponent, they’ll take any way they can get.
"Obviously it's just one win, but the key is to build off of this success. I'm really proud of our guys," said WKU head coach Tyson Helton postgame to Elliott Pratt of the Bowling Green Daily News.
Quarterback Steven Duncan led the Tops on a four-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in an eight-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jahcour Pearson, to put WKU on the board 7-0.
The Rishard Dames pick-six would tie the game at seven, but right when it seemed that momentum had swung in favor of the Panthers, the Morgan injury occurred.
On a 3rd and 2, Morgan scrambled to his right, trying to extend a play when he was tackled from behind while attempting a pass to Tony Gaiter IV.
He limped off of the field under his own power, but clearly had issues putting pressure on the lower-body injury on the sideline while attempting dropbacks.
On the ensuing drive, WKU went on a nine-play, 59-yard drive that saw Duncan deliver an excellent 26-yard back-shoulder pass to Quin Jernighan. Running back Gaej Walker would punch in the score from two yards out to put the visiting team ahead 14-7.
Wiggins would look to make plays outside of the pocket throughout the rest of the evening and finished the game 2-6 for 41 yards passing while adding 25 yards on 15 carries on the ground.
WKU added a 19-yard field goal in the third quarter to make it a 17-7 game, but FIU continued to show fight defensively.
“That’s what I was most proud of. If you look at last week and then look at this week, our guys didn’t quit and I know it sounds crazy, but I’m more pleased with the guys tonight than I was versus Tulane,” said Davis.
Wiggins was able to lead the Panthers on a 75-yard drive that resulted in a Napoleon Maxwell 15-yard touchdown run to make it a one-score game.
Despite the game being sloppy offensively, it didn’t lack a dramatic ending.
After Duncan led the Tops on a drive that netted them three points to make the score 20-14, the combination of D’Vonte Price, Anthony Jones, and Wiggins marched the Panthers 66 yards on the ground and put them in position for the game-winning score.
Following an errant snap that Wiggins fell on behind the line of scrimmage, Morgan re-entered the game for FIU’s final two offensive plays.
With the ball on the 16-yard-line, Morgan fired a fade into the endzone that fell incomplete and on fourth down, he threw a dart in the endzone to Gaiter IV that the receiver couldn’t hold onto as he was hit by two defenders.
Duncan, who went 19-33 for 241 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions, hit an eight-yard pass on the following drive that iced the game for Helton’s first victory as WKU’s head coach.
"This one was for WKU President (Timothy) Caboni. He lost his Dad last week and I know he wanted this one really bad," said Helton.
For Western, they rebounded from a disappointing loss to open the season, while the Panthers are looking to right the ship next week against New Hampshire.