Entering last year’s offseason, head coach Butch Davis and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky knew it would be a challenge to replace two-year starting quarterback James Morgan. After an offseason that could best be described as disjointed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and two lackluster games this season, FIU isn’t any closer to selecting Morgan’s successor than they were following last year’s Cameilla Bowl.
Arguably the most concerning statistic — Panther QBs are averaging 4.6 yards per passing attempt — landing them second to last among FBS teams who have played more than one game.
For point of reference, Morgan’s yards per attempt in two seasons was 7.6 and 2017’s starter, Alex McGough’s was 7.9.
Let’s take a look at the three-man rotation entering FIU’s third game.
Through two games, the redshirt freshman is FIU’s leading passer with 141 yards on 12-of-19 passing and two TD passes. Norton has appeared eight of the offense’s 25 drives, but has the most dropbacks (25) and pass attempts of the three quarterbacks. Undeniably, he’s been the most efficient passer of the group, having converted six first downs, all through the air. Additionally, Norton’s 7.4 yards per attempt leads the group by far.
However, he’s struggled getting the ball out of his hands at times. FIU’s allowed 10 sacks — far outpacing 2018’s eight sacks allowed and last year’s 14. Of the 10 sacks, Pro Football Focus credits Norton with three, while I credit him with four. Davis has noted that each quarterback needs to improve getting rid of the football.
“Stone’s made some nice throws, but the main thing is we need all of them to get rid of the football — throw it away if it’s not there — throw it to me on the sideline,” said Davis.
The redshirt junior has taken the most drives (13) and snaps (59) of the three signal-callers, going 5-of-18 passing for 35 yards without a touchdown and one interception. Wiggins has added 66 yards on the ground, including converting three first downs as a rusher in addition to four as a passer.
The concerning aspect of his game through the opening two contests is his lack of pushing the ball downfield. Of his 15 pass attempts, (an additional three were throwaways) eight have been five yards or less downfield. Overall, Wiggins yard per pass attempt stands at 1.9.
His ability to use his legs isn’t questioned. What's clear is that Wiggins will have to give opposing defenses a reason to respect the downfield passing game when he’s under center.
The Maryland graduate transfer has seen the least amount of playing time of the three quarterbacks, having taken 18 snaps and attempting five passes with one completion for 11 yards to JJ Holloman in the Liberty game.
“Max is similar to James in that he’s a grad transfer with some experience, but he didn’t get the benefit of a full offseason like James did,” said Davis.
It’s easy to forget that Morgan had a less than stellar debut as a Panther, going 11-of-20 for 87 yards with one touchdown and one interception in 2018’s season-opening loss to Indiana. After splitting time with Christian Alexander for four of the first five games, Morgan excelled to become C-USA’s 2018 Newcomer of the Year.
While neither of the three quarterbacks has had their breakout performance, the rushing game has engineered 55 points and both losses have come by less than a touchdown. Should FIU take the field against Jacksonville State on Friday, it may allow for one of the QBs to break away from the pack.
For the team’s sake in 2020, they’ll have to establish a starter sooner than later.